Lismore. Tuesday, 12.40pm
‘G’day Stephen.’ (That’s my alias.)
‘Hello. How are you?’ I say.
‘I’m fine. And you?’
‘I’m fine too. Thank you.’
‘You’re welcome,’ she says.
She has the English greeting ritual down pat. She has learned well.
One of the things I do is teach English to those whose first language is not English. It’s the world language now. Most English conversations taking place on the planet at the moment are between non-native English speakers.
I’m sitting under a tree. It’s a pleasant setting. The university has created a beautiful natural environment in which to set its campus. Once, in this very tree, I spotted a huge carpet snake draped over the lower fork. My classroom being nearby, I quickly gathered the students, who were thrilled to see the dozing snake.
I am fortunate to meet young adults from around the world. They are at an age just before the capitalist, planet-gorging, heart-breaking system grabs them. They still retain the sparkling humanity of their childhood, and have faith in the future. (I don’t think I share that faith.)
‘I can sit with you?’
‘Sure. I’m just having some lunch.’
‘This is a beautiful view. I have lunch too.’
She sits down.
I am impressed by these young adults: They have a natural honesty, are developing specialised and sophisticated skills (a hallmark of our species), but have little idea about the world they are entering.
‘What is your lunch?’ she asks.
‘This is a falafel wrap.’
‘It’s a little ball of… chickpeas, I think. From the Middle East.’
‘Oh. Middle East.’
I can see she’s not sure what Middle East is.
‘Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Egypt, Israel.’
‘Yes.’ And falafel.
The young adults believe in the dreams sold to them by business and government. They are yet to comprehend that the ruling paradigm is inherently anti-human, manipulated to feed the ever-expanding appetite of corporations at the expense of planetary health. (Corporations don’t have children, hence they don’t have an ethos that values climate stability over fiscal gain, happiness over wealth.)
After hundreds of millennia of human co-existence with the natural world, an insanity has traded sustainability for shareholder profit.
We fall quiet. We eat. I sip coffee. She sips something from a plastic packet. A wind rattles leaves.
I’ve been feeling low. I just can’t muster enough denial to mute the rising chorus of doom. Easter Islanders felled the last palm tree on their isolated island even though they knew it would be the downfall of their civilisation. This is a scary part of human nature: Our denial can override our common sense.
‘I have a cookie. I made it.’
She gives me half of her biscuit, cornflakes welded together with caramelised sugar.
‘Dessert,’ I say.
‘I like dessert too,’ she says. ‘Sweet things are good after main course.’
‘Your English is very good.’
‘Thank you for teaching me, Stephen.’
Okay, war still rages in the Middle East, the Australian government still wants to dig up fossil fuels despite its blah-blah in Paris, and there’s still fluoride in my coffee. But here and now, under the snake tree, sitting with a human from the other side of our planet, I feel better. She shares her cookie with me. And, somehow, magically, a little of her faith in the future reaches across to me as well.
Teaching is still mostly person to person. I like that. Person to person is the human way. Much passes between people that is not spoken. Person to person vitalises our humanity. Person to person creates a common sense that can resist the propaganda, the hard sell, the internetted separation, the insanity.
‘Thank you,’ I say.