I recently attended the funeral of a close family member. A miserable service but in the midst of all those closest to us, a reassuring and comforting one. We are not alone in our grief and there are many who support us, even if from a great distance in space and time.
Old friend were there. Very old friends from childhood, old neighbours long since moved away, old cousins and great-uncles who I had heard news of but not seen in decades. A scattering of newer friends, introduced to the old.
With only a couple of exceptions, everyone there was white Australian or New Zealander, mostly Anglo-Celts like ourselves. Why? My family has had many friends and neighbours of different backgrounds over the years – Aborigines, Sri Lankans, many Asians. They had all drifted apart like the others, but somehow the separation had become more permanent in their case. One can never drift entirely away from one’s tribe. Whatever their faults and differences, they share one’s genetic and cultural legacy. They are extensions of myself, as I am of them.
I have experienced the discomfort of being invited to foreign funerals, where my role is unclear and I do not understand what is expected. Where people eat and drink and make merry all night alongside the deceased in open casket; where they say strange prayers and perform strange rituals to chase the ghosts away. I bear no ill feeling to those who were unable to attend our service. They are fine people, but they are not my people and are not required at such traditional events.
I live far from my kin and tribe. I often feel profoundly uncomfortable and alien among them due to my social anxiety and eccentric nature. But they are mine, and I love them. Their nasally, uncertain voices mumbled through lips that do not move, and barely open – that’s how I speak. Their drinking, even at funerals – check. Their single-minded focus on hedonistic pleasure, their view that the good life is one lived with maximum time spent drinking in the sun and the minimum possible attending to other duties – yup.
We are they who played barefoot cricket on scalding suburban streets. Got knocked over by surf far too powerful for our undeveloped bodies; tumbled arse over head as our nostrils filled with sandy brine. Stood drinking beer on sticky carpets watching a local gig. We drove together across our arid countryside, going from one nowhere to another. Our ancestors were despised peasants and criminals who prospered in that most unpromising continent.
It took ten years and several births and deaths for me to realize that I’m just another skip. An odd one, for sure. An unwilling and awkward one. Disagreeable, conceited and ill at ease. One who will never permanently return. But that’s what I am, whether you mob like it or not.
Further reading: Don’t forget where you came from