Women’s Stories from Lockdown
Noelene Kelly, M.A.Dip.Ed
I returned from India in late February 2020 after an Ayurvedic detox that I found deeply cleansing on many levels. I arrived home in the nick of time to avoid COVID-19 border shut downs, and to a new life full of bushfire and pandemic repercussions. In 77 years my life has taken many unexpected turns and this COVID time - to my surprise – has mirrored some past experiences and taken me more powerfully into them.
Across those 77 years, my adventurous spirit has led me to captivating spaces and places, within and without. Those within have included immersing myself to masters level in some of the world’s great wisdom traditions, philosophies and literature; and to unfolding their endless riches. Those without have led me to continuously reinvent myself in teaching and leadership roles in secondary schools, in the Finance Sector Union, in ABC radio, in Mediation at the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre and in University staff development. Those without have also taken me to many sacred spaces on earth where I have been able to connect with ancient and indigenous cultures. Currently I have woven all my learnings - within and without – into the transformational coaching work I do, and indeed into the increasingly simple and rich unfolding of my days in my mountain home!
Surprisingly, this pandemic has been and is continuing to be a unique watershed moment in my life. The time alone with fewer work engagements and social events has allowed for the opening of new doors within and I have had the opportunity and the courage to go as far as these new openings will take me. Yes in 1983 at age forty, a thirty day retreat in the historic and exquisitely beautiful hills of Frascati took me on an unforgettable inner journey of surprise and delight like none other I had known. I felt in my body and knew in my soul what the poets describe as expanded states of awareness and a feeling of oneness with all life. This state of conscious awareness and alert sensitivity lasted the full 30 days and is as fresh now as if it happened yesterday and has reverberated across my years. Remembering these days always brings me home to myself.
So, after such a variety of life experiences rich in learning and in unforgettable connections with many students, teachers and friends, how can this time alone with so little distraction, be so memorable? Such a watershed? It is strange but this time out of time has allowed me to hold a mirror to some past experiences and take me more profoundly into them; to draw more juice and joy from them. This COVID moment has taken me into the stillest place I have yet known, an internal adventure that has cycled me back to that retreat in the hills of Frascati and invited me to enrich its tapestry with the distilled wisdom of the years before and since that pivotal event.
The Frascati experience and others like it have strengthened me to face and overcome the challenges of deep immersion in the Catholic Church and elsewhere. During this COVID time I have been able to reach, name and release the final impacts of the scars I accumulated from the patriarchy during my life as a nun and in secular institutions that carried similar energies for me. Many of these scars became suppressed in the process of rearranging and reinventing my life. Over recent years I have been allowing the suppressed energies to surface and to heal.
Going into the stillness in this COVID-19 time, I have been able to harvest the pure gold from overcoming the challenges of the male domination that I unwittingly allowed within and without: I have been able to name and claim the untapped feminine energies within and to restore them to their life-giving space inside myself. In doing so, to my surprise, the masculine energies within have now settled and even honour the feminine within me. This situation has brought me to a deep peace and contentment.
I feel deeply at one with all women who have had to come to terms with being silenced or abused by the masculine as we reclaim our feminine essence within, and I feel that while my story may not provide the material for a Hollywood blockbuster, my inner victories and resets mirror the liberating journey of so many women at this time. I rejoice that we are slowly restoring the balance between feminine and masculine energies on planet earth, with all that means for the environment and society at this crucial time. Hopefully not too slowly!!
I have been acutely aware of the imbalances on the planet in the wake of COVID-19, bringing death, hunger and suffering. I can only hope that my growth in conscious awareness plays its part in a global reset, in contributing to more balance of power, a new love for the earth and real equality in sharing her resources. I hold faith in the power of Life to constantly renew itself:
As Hopkins once said there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.
For over a year I have read and listened to news about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for so many - how it has caused trauma, grief, serious financial and mental health issues, frustration, impatience, confusion and most of all a wish for life to return to normal.
For me the pandemic has been a very different kind of experience.
The pandemic has become part of a continuum, a continuation of a journey of learning to accept the reality of and adapt to what life has thrown my way, to keep placing one foot in front of the other, and to try to use my experience to help others along life’s way.
Initially I welcomed the quiet ushered in by the lockdown – no planes or road traffic obliterating the sounds of nature, no rushing out the door for yoga classes, concerts, movies, cups of tea, meetings or necessary errands. Just silence. A time re-engage with the wonders of nature and to study the clouds drift across the sky. A time to set aside a life full of distractions and to reflect on the previous four years of trauma, grief and interface with the NSW criminal justice system as a result of my son’s murder at age thirty five and the eventual death of his partner who had been irreparably traumatised by his death. A time to prepare for two trips to the U.S. to be with my father leading up to and for his celebration of a century of life.
However I soon found that the lessons I’ve been learning over the last four years about dealing with fear, uncertainty and grief were being refreshed – my resilience was once again under challenge. The imposed and lengthy break from yoga classes – which were helping me become physically and mentally stronger, more flexible and more balanced – and from frequent face to face contact with my support network were no longer possible.
As the lockdown commenced, I had to face the fact that undertaking my first trip to the U.S was too risky. And time dragged on and my father’s health deteriorated it became clear that I had to cancel that trip as well. The most worrying aspect of this was that my father was exposed to the COVID-19 virus; it was several weeks before he received relieving negative results.
In time I realised I had to remain open to and grasp new opportunities. Surprisingly, there were quite a few. I not only fulfilled years of promises I had made to myself to tend to my overcrowded and dirty cupboards and the holey window screens, but I also transformed fabric that had been beckoning into garments, replace crumbling bathroom grout and developed some of the fleeting and recurrent phrases that had been on my mind into fully formed ideas. I reconnected with friends and family and made new connections with extraordinary individuals through regular video gatherings. I shared my personal learnings about being a family member of a victim of homicide with members of the NSW police force and trained to provide telephone support to other victims of homicide.
Perhaps the greatest and the most confronting opportunity that came my way was to engage in a restorative justice process with the man responsible for my son’s death. As it turned out COVID-19 was a gift. It gave me time to think deeply about the impact of and the contributing factors to that crime and what I contribution I could make to influencing the offender so he does not reoffend.
I guess my C-19 experience has been beneficial. Yes, that sounds weird and I would have preferred not to have gone through this and seen the enormous harm it has done to a great many people. For many, the experience has been fatal; for others, there has been severe impact on their mental health or financially crippling. No one has escaped unscathed.
My experience began in December, when we sold our property in Miranda to move to the south coast. This whole move had been planned and discussed, but I held an ambivalence about it, thinking that I would just buckle down and make the best of what could be a very isolating move, leaving behind – as I was – my many friends, a city I love, the entertainment options that I had.
Shortly before selling the house, my mother and sister decided they would join us in the south coast and this decision by them lifted an enormous cloud to the exercise. So, we planned the move together and a positive energy surrounded the family.
Come late December and fires raged around the country. My sister and I drove to Ulladulla to find accommodation, which lo and behold, in amazing stroke of luck, we achieved it in one week. We found two lovely villas, a minute away from each other and equally close to our future new house in Milton. Life could not be more positive.
The week before the move, the fires delayed our move and forced my husband and I to look for shelter with our friend Elyssebeth for three weeks, but despite the anxiety and uncertainty, we moved after Australia Day. Once here, we immediately joined activities and started to establish ourselves.
Then Covid-19 hit in full and a month and a half after our move, we were locked down. This could have been a terrible time for us, but we had our private bubble --Mum, sister Nora, Gary, and I. Our family unit was together to keep each other strong, safe and optimistic, despite the tragedy developing around us. So, we took all the safety steps: we stayed home or went in the car to sit overlooking the beach and have lunch in a lovely part of Australia.
My first thought when Covid hit was that renting a tiny villa, 24/7 with Gary, would drive me insane. Funnily enough, Gary told me he had the same thought just the other day, when we actually discussed this. But we didn’t go insane; we adapted to a routine, kept each other amused, gave each other space, and, with the weather then still pleasant, we could sit in our own back yard and enjoy the fresh air. I honestly think that this isolation brought us closer together, highlighted how fragile life really is and how important it is to say we love each other.
And a real gain, for me, was that I had a lot of time to reach out to my many friends in other parts of the country and the world. In our lifetime, technology has made long distance communication so easy. All it takes is to think of someone and call via Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp – all free.
It has also made me think about what is important: make the effort to always think positive, try to be kind; remember we need each other, remember our achievements, regardless how small. And understand the fragility of life and how it can all suddenly disappear.