Postcard from Albania
Me at 3, my sister Katie and my father Ian
I shake the salt container into my hand and sprinkle it onto the chips, I do this again and again as a reflex, watching the white sand in my palm and the unconscious motion of the sand to the chips. I think when did I start to do this in this way? And I remember it was what my father did, reluctant to let the shaker determine how much salt went onto the food. I remember as a six year old watching my father read the paper and eat breakfast toast. I watched through the window of the laminex top that was a kind of bench between the living room and the kitchen. My Dad ate the toast, read the paper and unconsciously ran his thumb across his fingers, with the skill of a pianist, to shed them of crumbs. And I thought when I am an adult this is what I will do. On the wall beside the laminex counter is a shadow box with blown glass birds and once my sister ran into me holding one and the sharp glass neck of a stork cut a long deep gash in my finger near the hand and fifty years later I still have the scar. Like I still have the scar of my father’s strengths, my father’s weaknesses and his way of shaking salt.
But I am in Tirana Albania eating sword fish at a Greek restaurant and my father. long since dead, lives in me and in the way I use salt. He never traveled except to Thursday Island in the war where he waited for action which never came and caught sharks on big hooks and blew up reef fish with dynamite.
My father was a man who was honest in the world, he valued honesty, his name and his reputation for being a good man. And that is also the salt I look from him. While fearlessly honest in the world I don’t think he ever went deep with it within himself. I have tried to do both. He taught by his example of honesty and straightforwardness in the world and he taught me by his example of fear of self-examination. And I resolved to follow one and address the other.
I have done neither as well as I would have liked. I believe I am a calculating rather than a courageous man. I have been courageous at times when I have ventured into the unknown with communities I work with, not knowing whether I have the stuff to address a situation. But it is only them and me that will know if I have or I haven’t and maybe that is not such a risk.
When I was forty something, I received the highest honor from the prestigious private school I went to.There was one medal given each year to an alumni who had contributed greatly to the Australian society. So there I was in the company of the man who developed the world acclaimed bionic ear and several of what Australia calls its National Treasures. I was receiving my medal as the exemplar of that year in front of four thousand people and had thirty seconds to accept and say something. I started by acknowledging the indigenous people on whose land this auditorium was built and more than implied that our White man success was only possible through their loss of county. This was like serving pork at a Jewish barbecue, and the school has never invited me back to speak to students. And this was brave, I knew it at the time, it was brave.