Core of my heart, my country!

Chair at the second hand store

I was at the second hand store the other day with Jack and I found this great chair. Actually the chair kind of found me because I wasn’t looking for anything at all. I think we have enough stuff in our house from the second hand store. Sometimes I wonder whether we give more stuff to them or whether we buy more stuff from them but either way, I guess we can say there is a continual flow of giving. If anything sits in our hallway for much longer than an afternoon, Reid will have slung it into his car for delivery, convinced that whatever is in the bag was intended for the second hand store. Poor Emma went on a search through all the local ones the other day to see if her precious India purchases could be relocated. Reid has a type of amnesia in these situations and never can recall which ‘op’ shop scored our things. Emma made me laugh when she tweeted her dilemma: Anyway, back to my chair!

As I sat waiting for Jack, I realised that the little slipper chair underneath me was very comfortable. Suddenly I could visualise little people in front of me ready for story time, so I went to enquire if it was for sale.

“Oh yes, dear, it’s for sale but it’s a very expensive one because it’s a Parker Knoll,” the assistant advised me.

I told her that I thought it would be lovely in my Kindergarten classroom and she told me they had much cheaper chairs that would serve the purpose just as well, chairs that would not require the great expense of being re-upholstered. I smiled and walked away suddenly thinking that the $75 price tag was too high. I quickly texted a series of photos to a dear friend who buys things like this at auction to reupholster all the time and awaited her response. When word came back that it seemed completely suitable and that her equipment was ‘all mine’ to upholster it myself, I made the purchase and drove home delighted.

Stripped back!

It took me almost a day to tear back all the rancid, dusty and faded pink fabric from the timber. I did it slowly and carefully so as not to rip it too much. I figured if I labelled all the pieces carefully I could cut a new cover from a different fabric using the old pieces for a pattern. As I did this, another lovely heavy brocade fabric appeared under the layer that I was peeling off and the closer I got to the bones of the chair, the more I began to wonder about its date, its history and the life it had lived.

Authentic markings under the fabric

What amazed me was how sturdy this little chair was and how beautifully crafted it was under all the layers of fabric. The beauty to me was in the markings hidden beneath the fabric in places where only the upholsterer would see. It’s often not until everything is stripped away, all the layers peeled back, all the outer coverings removed, that you actually get to assess the true character of a piece of furniture like this. I’ve seen the same strength of character in my daughter as her hair fell out, as her weight dropped, as all hope of vitality seemed stripped away through the harsh effects of cancer and the treatment methods that were designed to make her well. In her physical weakness I observed her core strength; her dogged determination that this was going to pass and she was going to get better. There were dreadful moments as well, times when the fight didn’t seem worth it to her, when she wanted to give up and the challenge to recover seemed impossible. I can still hear her little voice saying, “Oh mum, I don’t know, I think it’s just too hard and I should just go to be with Jesus.” I held her close and kissed her little face because at times like these I had no words.

Sometimes there are no words to describe the pain that is caused through devastating circumstances. Like you, I’ve watched in horror this week as images of the Queensland flood infiltrate our media. We shake our heads in disbelief wondering how our nation will recover and what we can do to help. We eagerly wait for leadership and instruction, for someone to break it down for us so that we can do something that is helpful.

In the heat of Sydney’s summer, walking at dusk along the beach, I found myself trying to contemplate the situation. Dodging the bluebottles embedded in the sand at low tide, watching the setting sun reflect off them like opals, I was reminded of Dorothea Mackellar’s description of our nation – ‘an opal hearted country.’ I thought for a long time about that image and what it means. It is the rich mineral wealth beneath the surface of our earth but it is much deeper than that as well. Amidst the loss and the grief we see the best (and maybe the worst) of people in times of great need. I think the most incredible thing to witness is the beauty, the strength and the integrity of the Australian spirit. In the words of the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, ‘it may break our hearts but it will not break our will.’

God promises in Isaiah 42:3-4 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.

I used to ask God about this all the time when Sam was at her weakest; I grappled to understand what it meant. I am still not completely sure, but I have discovered that in my weakness, His strength is sure. In my need to completely rely on Him, my life feels supple in his hands and my capacity for compassion is increased.

‘Core of my heart, my country!’ The poet so aptly describes the passion that is felt for this nation that we love. That passion is immovable, strong and unwavering. Our heart aches for those who have lost loved ones, who have no insurance cover and who will spend years trying to rebuild. As you already know you can donate money here

All ready for Kindergarten

Whatever we are going through in life, we all need a friend who is available to offer help. Even an insignificant, discarded chair can be rebuilt when you have a friend who sees its potential. So with all my smelly pieces of pink silk, pinned to bright apple green velvet, I headed up to my friend’s house and spent the day giving my Parker Knoll new life. It will be recovered again one day in duck egg blue (a more suitable choice perhaps) and find its home in my lounge room. But for now I eagerly await the children who will sit in front of it and stroke its soft fabric and maybe give my suede shoes a break.

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1 Comment

Filed under Life

One response to “Core of my heart, my country!

  1. Deborah

    Dear Clare. Thank you for your beautiful words, as always. I am an immigrant to this amazing country. I believe your Parker Knoll chair is a poignant metaphor for the intrinsic Australian strength of character. Scrape back the aesthetic furnishings and find the firm structural basis that offers new beginnings. That’s what we have seen in Queensland – people having to literally rebuild everything, toss out all the muddied fabric and flood affected “brocade” of their worldly possessions and find a way to start again. What moves me most is they have not had to do this alone. Friends, family and complete strangers have been right there standing by them.

    Clare, I can just picture you on your sturdy and beautifully decorated chair. Your students will be so fortunate to sit at your feet (and hopefully not stroke your shoes!) and they will be so lucky as you read, teach, guide, motivate and inspire them. Keep writing and keep upholstering. Deb x

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