People and things we encounter ought never to be taken for granted. They are not ordinary, even if they appear so, and neither are you.
The letter arrived the same day as I received the package from Ledy. The stamps with the American flag on the face of the envelope revealed who the letter was from before the seal was broken. I had been expecting this delivery from Angel, as well as the package from Ledy. An air of excitement lifted my mood after opening my post office box to see this mail, as if it were waiting patiently for collection.
I knew Ledy from more than a decade and a half ago. She is one of many mates from my time with Army. If I recall correctly, we first met while I was posted to Canungra in the south-eastern Queensland hinterland where I was teaching tactics to junior officers who, transient, passed through on promotion courses just as I had done in the years before. The networks with other people made on these postings mostly came into their own long after I had marched out and moved on to other appointments. Many of the names of people who were posted at Canungra and those who posted through were topical and well respected, even if few were known by the civilian community outside of this tight-knit military community of warfighters.
Who knew that decades after mingling with the other officers on the wooden deck of the Mess that I would be receiving these crocheted squares from Ledy? As always, it was the people from that time that made a difference, and Ledy’s handiwork prompted a flood of reflections, such as Steve’s characteristic welcoming broad grin while he was holding court, enjoying the company of those entertained by his anecdotes and pearls of wisdom.
David Morrison, then a lieutenant colonel with a reputation that preceded him, was the PMC of the Mess if I remember rightly, now known as something of a YouTube celebrity for bringing a hard thrusting diversity agenda to culture within Defence. David Elliott, now the NSW Minister for Veterans Affairs, was then a spritely publicity relations officer for Army during the brief time he spent in Canungra when for a time among my tactics students on the course he was attending.
It was at the end of the “Long Peace”. Timor had yet to occur and in such a way that would change the dynamic of the Army for the decades that have followed. Noises about a possible independence referendum were the subject in pithy discussion papers, but with increasing urgency bringing the geography of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in closer focus which had not occured since the ’91 Santa Cruz massacre.
These were happy days in hindsight. Simpler and less dogmatic, much like the politics and the strategic outlook of the day following the demise of the Soviet Union. Known enemies were more charactures of tactics manuals. Even the All Blacks were reduced to a country of chokers, without any hope of winning against the Wallabies.
Damian Cantwell was a hardworking and diligent instructor, having impact in reforming methodology shaping tactical planning, long before his recent appointment as the ACT Electoral Commissioner. Highly respected in his own right, his brother’s reputation as a capable senior officer was acknowledged by association, long before John would pen the hard-hitting memoir “Exit Wounds” about the struggles of PTSD. So much was taken for granted. In hindsight, there was a naivity to the Army which had for so long been sidelined from conflict.
Opening Ledy’s envelope this week and seeing her crocheted patches seemed fitting to place all of this in context. These deliberately woven red and white squares, one featuring a compass “to guide you home”, as if we are all in need of this beacon.
Angel’s large white calico square was impressive to receive, and with a beautiful note which read “I’m pretty sure art saved my life. I’m happy to share a piece of it with you”. It was such a moving sentiment. Perfect in every dimension for the collaborative work that Ledy and Angel were contributing their woven fabrics towards.
The collaborative art work will be a large red and white tapestry featuring a red diagonal cross over a white background, reflecting the maritime signal flag of “I require assistance”. Together, our fabric will reweave broken threads creating a work that will be titled “Restoration”.
It was the story which Angel later shared with me that brought this all to life. She wrote that “the fabric is a piece of my first Taekwondo uniform. Martial arts became the thing that saved me when I required assistance.”
The significance of this became apparent when she described the personal cost of making this contribution. “Well, actually, I almost cried cutting into that uniform. But it’s from the back of the pant leg and they are old and not used.”
What seems ordinary, a patch of white fabric, holds a wealth of meaning for us if we care to understand its providence. Something precious, even if only because of sentimental reasons, maybe more accurately expressed because of sentimental reasons, was provided towards this international collaboration. The trousers were old and not used, but now the fabric has a purpose that is new and with indispensible meaning.
Things and people from the past once gave us a tremendous sense of purpose. Don’t lose that, even if it means cutting up to share with others for the collective gain. We can discover that these are the things that are not ordinary, despite all appearances.
Remember that in your darker moments. You are neither ordinary, especially if you feel old and not used. Join this collaboration. Send me some ordinary fabric, and by doing so infuse it with an alchemy of richness that only can be won through collaboration. We need you for all the uniqueness only you can bring as together we create a compass to guide us home.
Please send a swatch of red or white material for inclusion in this collaboration. Ideally, make them 10 cm x 10 cm, but size is not as important as sending something. The address to send them to is:
PO Box 455
Potts Point NSW 455