Tag Archives: midnight oil

Dancing with Speeches #23 Kevin Rudd

National Apology to Stolen Generations by Kevin Rudd when he was Prime Minister of Australia  called a nation to account for wrongs past and to turn the pages over together as an act of reconciliation.

This speech took the form of a collect, a Christian tradition where there is the open address to the higher form (in this case the Parliament, not God), then an attribution to the Parliament’s (not God) place and agency to act, then a petition, an explanation of why the ask and finally a conclusion. When I heard the apology, the familiarity of the form gave me reassurance, knowing the steps makes it easier to do the dance. I love the place of a petition or litany, the call and then the response becomes predictable and grows with authority each time. We are sorry. We are sorry. We are sorry.  But are we sorry enough?

When we are truly sorry, we seek restoration and try to restore balance. It is not a matter of just saying sorry.

To transcend sorrow

go deep first

plumb the dark places

lift heavy stones

slide into nooks and crannies

find the hurt that doesn’t want to be found

taste the bitterness of sinister deeds

unmask appropriation

give benevolence a new name.

There is a lot more Sorry business to be done before we, as a nation, can be truly sorry for the 50,000 children taken from their families.  The commitment to have four-year-old in a remote Aboriginal communities enrolled in and attending a proper early childhood education centre or opportunity and engaged in proper pre-literacy and pre-numeracy programs, made at the time of the Apology speech is still not fulfilled – we are not yet truly sorry.  The commitment to embrace a systemic approach to build future educational opportunities for Indigenous children to provide proper primary and preventive health care for the same children, to begin the task of rolling back the obscenity that we find today in infant mortality rates in remote Indigenous communities—up to four times higher than in other communities – still unfinished business – we are not yet truly sorry. The gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is still there 69.1 years for Aboriginal males—10.6 years lower than for non-Aboriginal males (79.7 years) 73.7 years for Aboriginal females—9.5 years lower than for non-Aboriginal females (83.1 years). We are not yet truly sorry.

Sorrow holds us in place so we might be healed, allowing tears and aches to work their way through the body and then exhausted, there is a kind of expiration that signals the start of something new.  Only when that moment comes are the labour pains over and the birth of a new possibility or relationship can emerge and inspiration can find a home.

Cloak and dagger: Midnight Oil performing in their Sorry suits at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony. Picture: Nathan EdwardsSource:News Corp Australia

Cloak and dagger: Midnight Oil performing in their Sorry suits at the Sydney Olympics closing ceremony. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source:News Corp Australia

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National Apology

Dear Hildegard,

It’s been quite a week for leaders on the political landscape – stepping up to the mark, not stepping up to the mark, resignations, sackings and apologising. In the midst of all the upheaval in Canberra, the hearts of mothers who forcibly had their children removed and given up for adoption had a moment in their long quest for recognition acknowledged and witnessed by the nation. I am such a believer in this idea of witness. Witness is solidarity’s sister. It is not vicarious. We could all see, first hand, the effect of forced adoption anguish and the residue of tears of lifetime etched in the crevices of faces, and in doing so we were not the same again.

Loss and grief is a journey that sometimes seems to have no final destination. To carry this around for a life time must be exhausting and relentless and I hope for many of these women and now adult children, they can at least take a rest from that journey for a while. I keep hearing Chuck Girard’s song Lay Your Burden Down in relation to these experiences and trusting that all involved can lay their burden down and rest a while. Where laying down isn’t an act of surrender but an act of rest of handing it over to another authority or sharing the burden so you don’t have to carry it all on your own.

I can find laying burdens down an enormous challenge – wanting to chew over and revisit decisions or relive experiences – instead of shaking off the dust from my sandals and moving on. What is it that enables us to be free and liberated some times and at not others? Is it guilt, ego, pain, the lack of a witness? When you meet witness you discover the power of observation and deep reflection, you notice the details and the nuances, you hear all the modulations of the tones, you see the spectrum of colours. You have taken the time to be still to stare and to soak in and soak up and come to know (word witness root meaning is wit – to know and when you trace that back it is linked to vis – to vision and to see). The sea of witnesses to the apology about forced adoptions gave me a glimpse of a vision of a world where saying sorry brought healing, hearing those words brings reconciliation and forgiveness and being witness to the events of a world where it is possible for institutional power to hear the truth of the words spoken allowing the veil of shame to fall away. As the Quakers would say “speak your truth to power” I wonder if when I can’t lay my burden down it is because I have not spoken my truth?

I hear your voice Hidlegard in your song of light as it is only in the light that the witness can see and in doing so brings more light to the task of witnessing.

A National apology is something I am proud my country can do. As a citizen I give thanks for the work done on my behalf by the Senate to bring this apology to birth and a lighter journey for those who might be able to rest now and lay their burdens down. As a woman, a mother and a daughter I give witness to this event and all the other women, mothers and daughters whose lives are defined by the experience of forced adoption. As a spiritual sojourner, I step into the light so I might see more clearly and know more deeply what it is to forgive, be forgiven and to speak my truth to power.

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