Near my place. Tuesday, 6.30pm
She serves field mushrooms topped with capsicum and – well, I’m not sure; it was something greenish, probably from the garden out the back – the lot topped with melted cheese. I take one, put it on my plate. It smells fungi delicious. Can’t wait to eat it. But I hear a car approaching, straining as it pushes up the hill.
‘Is that him?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ she answers, moving quickly to the door. I walk to the door too, leaving the mushroom to steam alone.
It’s a cool night here under the cliffs at the end of the world. Her partner is arriving from work. He helps people less fortunate than himself. And today is his birthday.
I’m at his house (and hers) with another mate of his, and with a friend of mine who is visiting from down south. My friend’s been staying at my place, just up the road under the same cliffs. She’s a violin player, fresh from the Blues and Roots Festival in Nimbin, and has never met the birthday boy.
I like this birthday man, now motoring up his driveway. I like him a lot. He has what the ancient Greeks, the originators of our Western philosophy, called virtue. In plain English, he’s a good man. Back in the day, virtue was the measure of a person. It was more important than wealth or power. Virtue encapsulated what it was to be human, honouring kindness and honesty, rewarding integrity and principle, investing in a shared common good.
So we are here – an impromptu celebration of this bloke’s birthday, a happy acknowledgment of his virtue.
Birthday Boy pulls his van up beside the house, gravel crackling. She, excited, looking out from the doorway, counts down with her fingers in the air behind her back as he pulls on the handbrake (five, four…), opens his car door (three, two…) and steps onto the ground (one!)
Violin Player takes her cue and plays Happy Birthday, Cajun style, on her fiddle. We sing along as Birthday Boy walks up the steps and onto the verandah where we four are congregated. Surprise! He smiles and walks into open arms.
Virtue. We recognise and extol it in our everyday lives. We want our children to have it. We try to teach them how to be good people, virtuous; to be generous and honest. But it’s an uphill battle because virtue is disappearing from our society’s mores, replaced by self-obsession and a callous disregard for others. Our leaders are terrible role models for the children. For the majority of people in government, principles are fashion accessories to be used and discarded according to the circumstances. Corporate interests override societal ones. Avarice trumps altruism. In our government, virtue has vanished as completely as the inspirational speech.
I hug Birthday Boy. We sit down to whiskey and mushrooms. Outside, the cool breeze shakes the leaves – an ethereal tambourine accompaniment to the violin whose Happy Birthday has morphed into an Irish jig.
The other day Prime Minister Morrison said he admired Donald Trump; said both he and Donald ‘get it’. Oh dear. That seals it.
Morrison is ostensibly a Christian, but in saying these words he has revealed his pact with the devil. He praises a sexual predator; a chronic liar. He and the object of his power fantasy are both men of no virtue. They are not worthy to sit at this table, drink this birthday whiskey, and eat these delicious mushrooms. They would look mean and small in the presence of a real man, a kind and honest man, a man who honours women, helps others and tells the truth.
Virtue has been abandoned by the elite, but it still hangs out here under the cliffs at the end of the world.