Exploring the Limits of What is Possible

I have to admit, I’m not always the best at staying in touch. So I was pleased when my sister Danielle and I finally spoke on the phone the other day. Our calls had been bouncing back and forward between our message banks for weeks.

“I’m really under the pump “ she said. We proceeded to talk about the projects we were working on. My sister is fifteen years younger than me and we only lived under the one roof for a few short years. Yet, in many ways, we’re scarily similar. As she spoke about the way in which she works and thinks, I laughed, as I already knew the story being shared from the inside out. Though much in our daily lives is different, we have very similar temperaments. We’re both driven, we’re focused on pushing boundaries and finding solutions that are new and innovative. We get bored easily and are rarely still for long before the next initiative kicks in.

After the call I found myself wondering, 'What is that? How can we be so similar?' A strange answer sprang to mind. Well, in fact, it wasn’t quite an answer. It was the memory of a person; my uncle, Jimmy Meath.

Jimmy was born with infantile paralysis, now known as progressive muscular dystrophy. He walked with the aid of irons on his arms and legs until he was confined to a wheelchair at the age of 17. For a time he managed to retain his job as a proof-reader for a major newspaper however, the steps leading into the building became too difficult to negotiate and he was forced to quit.

With no movement in his arms, he relied on his younger brothers to get him up in the morning, bathe and dress him.

It was the late 1930’s and people were still reeling from the onset of the Great Depression. Jimmy’s father, who had lost everything, suffered intractable depression. Watching his mother take in sewing to feed the family of six, Jimmy felt a responsibility to help raise and educate his brothers. He pulled them in each night to drill them on their times tables and talk to them about science. He firmly believed that one day man would travel into outer space. Most of the kids thought it was the stuff of science fiction, yet he had them enthralled with stories of unimaginable possibilities.

Soon Jimmy had the local kids working for him. He had them organised in teams.There was a 10 shilling bounty on rats at the time, so he organised teams to go out with fox terriers and net the cash. His boys supplied rags to Melbourne’s mechanics, recycled metal and even wool, which was fetching a one pound (per pound) premium during the Korean war. For a time he was a door to door SP bookmaker and ran an auction room. When Jimmy decided to start a woodyard he was unable to pay adults to do the work, so he opened at 4pm when the kids got out of school.

His crew were bringing home money to help out their own families. What’s more, the Meath’s tiny Housing Commission home gained a reputation as a place where any local boy could find breakfast before going to school. My father tells me there were often ten or twenty at the table.

In the final years of his life, a chance meeting with Bill Mooney became a powerful turning point for Jimmy. He became an accomplished artist, painting with a brush in his mouth, and selling his images on Christmas cards.

Jimmy died at the age of 38. At the time I was three years old and I still remember the shock of walking into his empty room. The fact that he had been larger than life made the silence louder. The vacuum somehow inconceivable. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, Jimmy’s life was probably my earliest experience of leadership – of the potential of someone determined to play their part.

I want to thank my Dad for keeping Jimmy’s memory and spirit alive in our family.

Dad, it wasn’t just Jimmy who believed in men landing on the moon, but you too. And we, my brothers, sisters and I, were listening at the dinner table. We saw the way your eyes shone when you told us these stories, and we became the kids with wild, wide eyes. So much so, that each of us,  in our own way,  became astronauts exploring the limits of what is possible.

As I post this blog, my Dad is celebrating a birthday, one of those major mile stones that he's still too young and a little too proud to admit to. Your secret's safe with us Dad, so too are your stories. 

Reflections:

Who’s spirit lives on in you? Who do you want to acknowledge and thank today?

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COMMENTS (3)

Rho, a touching homage to your Uncle and your Dad! Thanks for sharing them here with us and the rocket fuel that is big dreaming.


Thank you for this beautiful post, Rho!

I would like to acknowledge and honour the spirit of my grandmother from mother's side, whom I feel is very much a kindred spirit. I was also named after her and have always felt a very strong connection to her and our earlier foremothers. Whenever I fall into the temptation of feeling sorry for myself and thinking "I am doing it tough", I stop and think about this powerful woman. She had a similar energy and drive as I have, very smart, very ambitious, with a genuine need to manifest herself in the outer world and make a difference. Things I have been able to do, grow and develop in a fairly nurturing environment and welcoming times. Imagine a similar lady, being born in 1921 in post World War I Germany, not too long after her father returned from being a prisoner of war of the French. A time in which education for girls was not self evident, let alone a career other than house wife and mother. A time of great turbulence in a country suffering the severe consequences of a lost war. Living through the great depression. Being 18 when Hitler started World War II, which meant she had to drop her plans of going to university. Being a German young woman during World War II, which meant losing all her male relatives including her fiancee, losing her mother in the first year of the war, having to do forced labour in the war industry where she met the handsome young Dutch man who was to become my grandfather, accidentally getting pregnant, having immense trouble in getting permission from the Nazi government to marry him, having babies whilst her German home town was being bombed by the allied forces with not enough food to feed them, having to move to The Netherlands with her husband where she was obviously hated as the enemy, not speaking the language... Then spending her most productive years having and raising 8 children, not ever being able to go back to het university plans or take up an interesting job. Not surprisingly she suffered from depression for most of her life. Yet, at around het 70th birthday she made the conscious choice not to be unhappy anymore and to live her life with all it has to offer, good and bad. Which she then did until she died at 80, one week after she held my first born daughter in her arms, who is her first grandchild in the female line (daughter of the daughter of her daughter). Wow! Needless to say that whichever trouble or worries I experience, thinking about my grandmother instantly helps me step out of victim mode and make the choice again to embrace life to the fullest, with everything it brings on my path. Thank you, oma Wind, I love you and cherish my memories of you!


Thank you Lisa for sharing your own story and that of your oma Wind.  When I think about her story I really how marvellous and heroic our lives really can be.  And that we can make choices about how to be with the hand life has dealt us at any moment.  Rho 


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