I’ve found myself being away from home for a few days longer than I anticipated – and short of clothes. But I keep a couple of emergency t shirts in my suitcase and resorted to one this morning. It’s a t shirt promoting a campaign by the SA Synod called “Suicide: It’s No Secret”, encouraging people to talk about suicide, it’s possible causes and its impact in families and communities, rather than conceal it as if it were shameful in some way. http://nosecret.org.au/
The secrecy around suicide seems to compound this deep wound in the Australian community. And, in the earliest stages of the campaign’s development, it became clear that this was one place where Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians could come together in solidarity. The suicide rates among Indigenous Australians are horrifying, but are on a continuum of trauma that includes rural Australians, young Australians, and the community as a whole. The South Australian experience has been that this campaign has brought a surprisingly diverse group of people together. In the event, it has been about reconciliation.
Anyway, wearing my “Suicide: It’s No Secret” t shirt this morning got me into a long conversation with a security guard at Melbourne airport. He’d been looking at me as I emptied my pockets and got ready to go through the security scanner. Then he asked me what my t shirt was about. I said, It’s a campaign to encourage people to talk about suicide when it happens rather than feel that it’s a shameful secret that they have to hide. Oh, I see, he said. And I went through the security scanner.
He kept watching me as I was sent back three times before I found the keys that kept setting off the alarm. He watched me as I was stopped by the guy who tests your clothes and hand luggage for…I don’t know, bomb stuff. And as I finally got to reassemble myself and my gear he approached me again.
A good conversation followed about secrecy, trauma and the way that unshared pain just compounded problems for people. Well, not really a conversation. He just talked to me, sharing all the things that had been going through his mind since I’d explained the meaning of my t shirt. As he drew his reflections to a conclusion, he ended up recommending the church as a good place for people to talk about the darker aspects of their lives. Priests can be be good people to talk to about things you couldn’t tell anyone else, he advised me. Thanks, I said, I think you’re right.
I hadn’t had a chance to tell him what I do. That didn’t matter. This man, who didn’t appear to be a religious person himself, had talked us to a spot where we could both see that a community of faith and its representatives, priests and ministers, could turn out to be a matter of life or death.
When I got to Sydney I drove to Auburn where I was scheduled to visit a group of Fijian and Tongan lay leaders who were taking an intensive course for lay preachers. Again, my shirt became an issue. In this case, they were expecting someone who looked like a President. Not some bloke in jeans and a t shirt. They were pretty pleased about my informality, and were keen to tell me. But the shirt was just a puzzle.
So I told them about the campaign. And, for good measure, I told them about the security guard’s reflections. And, for even better measure, they told me about the seriousness of the problem of suicide in Pacific Islander communities. The Tongan students wanted to me know the word they had for suicide: taunakita (pronounced downa-keyta). And they don’t talk about it either.
These students, as a group, had been taking part in the week of prayer and fasting for justice for Indigenous Australians while they did their intensive course. Now they had found another space within which they could identify with and stand in solidarity with their sisters and brothers in the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander community – suicide.
In this important week – A Destiny Together: A Week of Prayer and Fasting for Indigenous Australians – I thought I’d share this story. http://www.assembly.uca.org.au/adestinytogether