Inspiration Writing Contest: Bronze Winning Story
We hope you'll consider Mairi Neil's message:
There is an interplay between words and actions. The value of using both in a life
creates a positive difference.
Passion to Make a Positive Difference: A Sense of Purpose
Mairi Neil, Australia
Two Quotes Provided Inspiration and Set Me On My Path
#1: You’re either part of the solution or you're part of the problem.
This saying originated in the USA in the 1960s and is often attributed to Leroy Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998), a writer, political activist and early civil rights leader of the Black Panther Party.
#2: ”I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”
This second quote hung above the mantlepiece in my childhood home in the 1970s. It is a famous verse by Quaker missionary Etienne de Grellet (1773-1855). The concept of active kindness to everyone continues to touch my life.
These two quotes served as inspiration and guidance to:
Value and seize educational opportunities,
Be active in social justice campaigns, and
Volunteer and engage with various community organizations and projects.
Next, Add In My Mum’s Mantra
Mum’s mantra provided the third benchmark for my life:
"Actions speak louder than words."
I still favour projects where I can see a practical result. Global warming requires urgent action: I write articles and poems, letters and submissions, raise funds for campaigns, march the streets in protest.
When the devastating bushfires struck Australia in the summer of 2019-2020, my "actions" turned to donating physical goods and food for people, and making soft material pouches to house the orphaned animals as well as those recovering from injuries, These practical responses became the kindnesses I could show.
My Profile: Writers and Metaphors
I’m a writer and a teacher of writers. So it’s no surprise that I love metaphors. If I were to choose a part of speech to describe myself, I’d be an active verb.
At high school in the late ‘60s and at university in the ‘70s, I met dedicated activists and inspirational people from all walks of life. I became involved in the Women’s Liberation and Peace Movements and supported the burgeoning struggle for Indigenous Land Rights. Hands-on activities and the fellowship of the Union of Australian Women meant I helped promote equal pay, improved health services and workplace rights. These actions lead to the election of more women into positions of power.
Dancing with Justice
However, family violence still claims the lives of too many women and children, the gap in health services for rural and indigenous populations is still huge, and equal pay is as elusive as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. These disadvantages can be multiplied for asylum seekers and refugees. Social justice in my lifetime is a slow awkward dance, of one step forward two steps back, but we must keep dancing.
The Box of Hope
I remain passionate for peace and human rights and know I’m not alone. Each generation produces people determined to work for a more equitable and peaceful world. The evils of the world and temptations that can’t be resisted may have been released by Pandora’s curiosity but Pandora also discovered Hope in the box.
Hope inspires me to believe the future will be better. I’ve donated creative writing to anthologies designed to raise awareness and funds for issues as diverse as Alzheimer’s, cancer, and refugee camps around the world. Some of the anthologies earn more than dollars for worthwhile causes because they also encourage the craft of creative writing so that more life stories will be told.
The Value of Education
My parents valued literacy and education as the cultivation of the desire to learn, not the cramming of knowledge. I discovered a love of reading and the power of words blessed with what my mother termed ‘an over-active imagination’.
Qualifications and writing skills led to teaching adult education, especially memoir to help people record their stories. Age, bouts of ill-health and adverse life events have not lessened the desire to fight for positive change. Words are a powerful tool; the pen always preferable to the sword!
Education Linked to Health Care Advocacy
Several bouts of cancer and years as a carer for my husband, plus early widowhood started my journey of advocating for improved health literacy and to focus on equity and better outcomes in the health system. The scientists and medicos steered us through the global pandemic, and did the heavy lifting. Knowing some of these people personally, I’m filled with admiration for their persistence and dedication.
I’ve benefited from the skills of surgeons, radiologists, GPs and nurses. Yet my lobbying for change is ongoing as it is important to make medical expertise more widely available to all groups. My work includes submissions, involvement in projects with the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre and Victoria Cancer Council, and participating online in an Australian Health Panel.
Projects concerning health and diet reveal that health and the environment are inextricably linked. Projects are online as well as in person so keeping up with technology is important and networking invaluable. It turned out that at the beginning of 2020, I began making facemasks for family, friends and people in need. That was a most satisfying contribution!
Love Not Fear
For me, love is a more powerful motivator than fear. Empathy and effort are needed in a world where chaos often seems the norm. A silver thread in my life’s tapestry is a love for the environment and natural world. The desire to protect the vulnerable extends to plants and animals endangered by climate change and pollution from mankind’s activities.
During the pandemic, Melbourne instituted a 5k and then 10k ‘ring of steel.’ This allowed us some outside time — originally 60 minutes and later 90 minutes. But many shops, community centres, workplaces, and even parks, closed. I’ve never held a driver’s licence so walking or public transport was already a routine way of life. But in lockdown, walking became a necessity.
I started an Instagram account in 2020. The learning curve was facilitated by my daughter, Mary Jane. This enabled me to to post regularly of seasonal changes, always with the emphasis on beauty and wonder. The photographs of flora and fauna, the landscape, streetscape and seascape, inspired writing about the everyday.
Beauty Inspired Me
One of my favourite hymns as a child was All Things Bright and Beautiful. Yes, all things, all seasons have valuable attributes. I focus on the warmth and light of the sun not its spots; winter always transitions to spring.
Here is a sample of my work during that period.
By the Creek
Smooth and silent the water
no boats or wind visible
small groups of people picnic
appreciating the warmth of the sun
and friendships rekindled
Lockdown restrictions eased
as laughter floats across the Creek
melodic birdsong echoes the joy
aromatherapy of blossomed spring
beneath shape-shifting clouds
paints peace and serenity
the natural world is always here,
was always here for our pleasure
if nurtured and preserved
a teal duck ripples past
moorhens call from the reeds
the water silent no more
Numerous Sources of Inspiration
The events, places and people that have inspired me are too many to list. The Internet is an ideal tool to complement other sources of knowledge. Global Zoom builds on available information. But I’ve also been privileged to travel widely, live in other countries, move out of my comfort zone and experience cultures other than my own. Lifelong learning has enriched each stage of life. The rainbow of colourful adaptations increasing or decreasing skills I use, acquiring new ones and embracing change. Childhood, Sisterhood, Motherhood, Widowhood and now in retirement (and limitations imposed by a global pandemic) a renewed focus on Neighbourhood!
the road travelled
towards dreams and memories
The pandemic and return of cancer hastened retirement from teaching and the health benefits of walking took on new dimensions during ‘iso walks’.
A daily walk was an imperative for health and wellbeing during Covid-19 lockdowns with a regular routine including Josie, an exuberant rescue puppy.
Writing therapy began as a way of displaying photographs of the neighbourhood, using poetry to distract and cheer people up. I continue to be inspired, write posts and stay engaged with others. I love the English language with its diverse history and incredible nuances
My Bayside Suburb
My bayside suburb offers a choice of delightful walking paths by Mordialloc Creek and to nearby parks and reserves but restricts access to the foreshore for dogs, so the foreshore promenade and beach I enjoy alone or with my two-legged buddy. Health and happiness entwined with walking and writing.
Endorphins increased, blood sugar and blood pressure lowered, especially since the stress of the continuing pandemic and mayhem of politics can leave me feeling powerless. Staying connected to nature and community provides energy and motivation to push back against negativity and make a positive difference.
Words are powerful, they can hurt or inspire, incite or soothe.
sunset’s wondrous glow grows
softens storm clouds and leaden sky
stand in awe at all we do not know
breathe in, breathe out…
those we love may die too soon
but the miracle of dawn
floods the world with light
a daily reminder of renewal
darkness is not infinite
birdsong a celebration of joy
breathe in, breathe out…
My Message for Me and for You:
Words are powerful, they can hurt or inspire, incite or soothe.
Actions are powerful, they can hurt or inspire, incite or soothe.
Work toward a life of words and actions that make a positive difference.
About Mairi Neil:
Mairi Neil is an Australian writer, born in Scotland and now living in Mordialloc, a bayside suburb of Melbourne. She founded and coordinated the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, producing their nine anthologies over 21 years. Before retiring Mairi taught writing in neighbourhood houses and in 2016 won Citizen of the Year for her contribution to community writing and teaching. Mairi loves reading and writing; celebrating the power of words and the richness of the English language. She believes sharing of stories encourages tolerance, understanding, and peaceful coexistence. She writes about family, culture, personal and historical events, the environment, health issues, and place with many of her poems, short stories, essays, and short plays finding a home or published on her blog Up the Creek With a Pen. https://mairineil.com and Instagram.
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