Last night I had the privilege of speaking at an event called 'Women's Night of Spirituality' hosted by the award-winning ABC TV and radio journalist Geraldine Douge (girl crush!).
It was sort of a tame, Catholic version of an Oprah show, orchestrated by an hilarious, excitable septuagenarian priest named Father Peter, who had us all drinking wine and whisky afterward in the manner of the Mad Hatter, and three glamorous mums from the St Ignatius Parish in Brisbane.
My fellow speakers were Julie Kelly, founder of Project Rachel, whose personal story of abortion in the 1950s was responsible for more than a few runny mascara marks, and Trish Wilson, a midwife and coordinator of the Mater Mother's Bereavement Support Program, whose metaphorical description of a crowning baby captivated everyone.
As I sat clenching my 15-minute speech, black-stockinged legs dutifully crossed (like a good Catholic girl) and heart thumping beneath a cream frock, a few things struck me, and the stars started to align... God has a funny way of communicating with you when you're quiet enough to listen.
Just before we'd entered the chapel, I was told by one of the organisers that each of the little chocolate cupcakes to be served for supper had come carefully wrapped in a piece of tissue paper. Then, in his introduction, Father Peter said that there was a cupcake with each of our names on it waiting at the end.
So that got me thinking about how God sees each of us as delicate, individual morsels to be treated with care. And then I thought of the 'EAT ME' cupcake Alice was tempted with in Wonderland. Which led me to think about how Eve stuffed things up in Eden.
Then Geraldine started on her introduction; the theme being community. She talked about how important it was for us – as women, and Christians, and Catholics – to get together to share stories. Because they're what binds us together. Our frailties, hopes, worries, triumphs... they're the stuff of human connection. They're also the stuff of good journalism.
I felt my life flash before my eyes (cue montage scene). The essence of my speech was clarified ("ah-ha!" Oprah would say): the two hardest times in my life had been characterised by a distinct lack of community. And the two best (okay, least troubled) periods in my life were defined by community: my girls' school experience and working on Girlfriend magazine. And, now that I'd found myself a new community to belong to, things were starting to look up again. Ping! The epiphany almost exploded out of my brain.
Giddy with this newfound wisdom, I took to the pulpit and segued into my speech, which was loosely themed around the ideas of 'Can you, like, be a Christian and read Cosmo?' and 'Why anorexia sucks arse (literally/metaphorically)'. I told the congregation that loneliness is the fast track to a miserable life and that community – more, pointedly, relationship – is what God created us for.
To be bereft of community in its many forms – friends, family, colleagues, neighbours – is to rob your soul. Twice in my life I've felt terribly isolated and alone and tried to fill the hole with ill-fitting blocks (y'know, shopping, exercising, food, boys, blogging...), but nothing stands up to the feeling of inclusion, validation and purpose you get when you feel like you belong. Even better when someone just "gets" you. Better still when you can give something back to them.
I talked a little about how pop culture, blogs, books and magazines can make us feel like part of a community. A Kate Miller Heidke song, Melina Marchetta's Looking For Alibrandi, The Babysitter's Club, Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, Mia Freedman's memoir, Oprah, Frankie magazine, MasterChef, The Sartorialist, Sex and the City – they can all give us the feeling of connecting with fellow humans, while also giving us a reason to bring us together (I delighted in seeing The September Issue with a former mag colleague). But, as one wise older woman (a Golden Girl!) in my church recently mused, "sometimes you need people with skin on".
When the presentations finished, I was delighted to see my best friend, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunties-in-law and other friends (and Husband) waiting to say hello. We'd shared an intimate but public night together, and we all left on a high. Because we'd connected: as people with skin on (and nice frocks). Some other women also approached me, to say that they'd connected with what I'd said. And I was invited to an afternoon tea... possibly with cupcakes.
Then, sitting with Father Peter, the other speakers and organisers sipping wine and eating cheese and crackers, I felt another connection: we'd achieved something together and it was deeply satisfying. And then I was reminded of Eve.
Jesus died to atone for Eve's sins – for all our sins – so we could all go about living life as fabulous, individual little cupcakes untainted by guilt and anxiety and loneliness, wrapped up in the tissue paper of God's love (aw - vomit, you say). Yet we often deny ourselves the very things that God intended to give us peace (y'know, people with skin on) because we are too preoccupied with other things or have forgotten how to connect... falling down the rabbit hole of work and routine. It's only after we have an amazing chat with a friend, or go to an event where talk ourselves silly with people that we remember how soul-nourishing relationships are: then we get busy and promptly forget!
One of my aunties-in-law visited me this morning to follow up on last night and we had a D&M about the complicated, deeply political yet personal issue of abortion. The previous night's event had opened up the issue for us, and I found we shared some common ground (so not going into it). I was relieved to have found a comrade. Added to this, a friend from my primary school, who I've not talked to for 18 years, Facebooked me today to arrange a coffee catch up. We have a history – a connection – that can't be filled by anyone else. And over the weekend I felt like I'd found a little slice of my former Sydney life at The Village Markets (Burleigh is the new Bondi for me!). Again, community. Whee!
The moral to this little self-indulgent God ditty? One is the loneliest number. If there's no one in your life you feel you can relate to or have a heart-to-heart with or who inspires you to be a better person or who's working alongside you for some purpose or who "gets you", I totally recommend praying for one... preferably with skin on.
Girl With a Satchel