One of the things I like so much about life with my husband is that we travel really well together; we are both friendly and have a real love for people and have an immediate desire, in whatever place we land at, to know the local culture and people right away – and steer clear of all tourist attractions.
This trip is very different because for two major reasons: first we really are not tourists this time. We are what you call “expats” – or temporary residents. And second, it is winter in Australia and all the tourists have run away, so we get to see a side of this life that most people don’t.
When we arrived in St Andrews beach, a small resort town about an hour outside of Melbourne. After two weeks of traveling in Asia, and all the emotions of leaving everything we know half a world away, we felt pretty disoriented not only with our surroundings but with each other. Our relationship has always been in the context of the kids or the people that we are involved with in our lives. Suddenly there was me wandering aimlessly in my floppy slippers, john trying to work in his office, the silence of the house deafening. I mean silence. No phone calls, no door knocking, no kids talking upstairs, no music from bedrooms, no having to line up for the shower. Weird. In fact, the first night I heard the chaotic running of possums on the tin roof I actually had a sense of relief and not fear: chaos I can do. I can handle unforeseen noises, chaotic occurrences by nature and children, winds, cyclones – yes I am good at those. But silence? Peace? Nothingness? That was going to drive me wacko.
We both knew we needed to find something outside of the house to keep us going, so of course we turn to music, the passport to the universe. We began to ask around for local jams and very quickly found the first local place that would give us something to do other than watch 80 episodes of House on Netflix for the next three months.
What we didn’t realize is that Jamming and music in Australia is something like a sacred religion. We would soon discover that not only is Australia the Jam capital of the planet, but that there is an amazing group of underground jammers: normal humans who by day may be disguised as moms or dads, accountants and business folk- but once a week, they get their hippie on, dust off the old axe and drive to the strangest places that come alive with jammers and jam supporters.
Here we are called musos – an expression referring to a talented jammer. To be called a muso is to be accepted into the popular underground culture of the jam world. We found our home base with other musos quickly, at a little taco joint called Baha’s, in Rye a small bay town ten minutes away. The very first Wednesday we jammed there the owner asked us to put together a band and do a full three set show on the Saturday night, as he had lost his band and needed a fill. Soon we were in the full throws of rehearsal with Dan our newly found multi-instrumental bass, saxophone, guitar, drum, keyboard guy with an amazing studio in a house that overlooks the whole world. Our new friend Jaci (Jaycee), a sweet original folk player who knows everyone, goes everywhere and immediately adopted us and began bringing us around with her, expanding our network of muso friends exponentially – our experience in australia began to widen as though we had lived here for years.
I enjoy that our relationships with people are never basic – we always go deep. We don’t talk about the weather, politics or other things that don’t really concern peoples hearts. And because Australians seem to be willing to engage easily in this level of “real talk” we have really found some amazing stories.
Last night was one of my favourites so far. It began as a very sad story: a man with a Ford tee-shirt sitting across from me, having imbibed ten or so too many pints pulls up his sleeve and says to me in a thick slightly drunk Aussie drawl.
“This ‘ere was my son – Cammy – he was the best boy evah. Gone now two years he is”, and he stopped and smiled at me weakly. I heard john take a deep breath and try and absorb it – I could his his mind thinking about our boys, all around the same 20 years old Cam was when he died in a biking accident.
My heart squeezed as he told the story about how his boy had just gotten a loan and had paid for his and his father’s tickets to fly across the country to attend his sister’s wedding in Cairns. The man known to others as “Spoons” because of his talent playing musical spoons, told me how he had spoken with his son the night before his death. Cam told his father he was going to the highlands to go mountain biking. The accident happened when a low lying wire unseen by the boy clotheslined him causing his neck to break.
My husband and I took the story in; we aren’t afraid of talking about death the way some people who want to be very polite about it can be. Spoons leans over and we look at his tattoo –
“Cameron ….. it says – “Never Forgotten”- He was 20 only years old.”
I watch the man like he is an enigma wondering how anyone survives the loss of a child – I just can’t imagine it. I feel such love for him, I just want to make it go away. I want to say something encouraging to him, but my own experience with grief tells me that nothing brings solace to a heart that is so broken. So I decide to really listen to him – be very present – and let him tell me all sort of beautiful stories about his son, which I see brings a sparkle to his eyes and an aliveness to it all.
Suddenly, as he is ending his story and I am trying to find a different way to repeat what I have been saying over and over “God, Im so sorry…I’m so sorry…”, a young man with messy brown hair and his friend a smiling blond boy, both in their early 20s come up to Spoons and sit right down beside him on the couch.
“You were Cam’s dad eh?” said the boy to Spoons smiling widely “I knew him yeah…I was living with him in town”.
My mouth falls open, and Spoons just looks at me with wide open eyes like he has seen a ghost
“That’s him!” I say probably louder than I meant to, feeling like somehow we had just won the lottery.
I feel tears come into my eyes –
“Spoons! That’s the way they keep talking to you! Your son is here to tell you he’s ok!”
We jump up – everyone is hugging and smiling, dancing a little jog with our arms around each other. We don’t care that an hour ago we were all strangers and now are crying quite openly together. Everyone around realizes what has happened and there is a giant resounding toast with lifted glasses, everyone’s eyes slightly upturned addressing Cam directly
“To Cam!!” everyone cheers.
Spoons hugs the boy beside him so long his tears don’t have a chance against his failing willpower and he comes out of the embrace wet faced – both men smiling understanding and accepting that Cam continues somehow.
I feel very honoured to be a witness of these experiences. It is my only wish not to waste the time or the learning. They remind me that life is really very magical. I also feel incredibly lucky to be a musician, because I experience life through this world of colour and sound and emotional openness that brings about these instances of incredible joy and pure honest humanity.
After Cam’s appearance, Spoons now calls me “his sister from another mister” and we are friends. The musicians call john and I Musos – and we are one of them now.
What a miracle to create and find this community all the way across the world. I still marvel at how far I had to travel only to discover how very small the world really is.