Threads of Gold
Since Conor’s accident, we have been lifted up by huge wave of support from family, friends and the wider community. We have been, and remain, enormously grateful for this support which has played a critical role in helping us to deal with our current circumstances. It has been provided by people in all sorts of forms – practical, financial, emotional, spiritual, and in some cases, in artistic form. A few weeks ago Bec returned from a Pilates class with a gift from Kirstin Cronin (pictured). Kirstin’s son Hugh played soccer with Conor when they were little and she made this herself.
My photography does not do the piece any justice so, in case it is unclear, I will explain that it comprises six pottery birds – let’s call them a family – nestled up together on a rustic piece of wood. They look to me like they’re chatting. I’m not particularly artistically literate, but I do appreciate the image of casual family togetherness that it conveys – a bit like the stick-figure stickers that were popular on the rear window of family cars a few years ago (only much classier Kirstin!).
If you look a little more closely you will notice small traces of gold lacquer on some of the birds – mostly on their beaks and tails. The placement of the gold is significant because it is these parts of the pottery birds that are most likely to be chipped off or broken and these golden “repairs” have been added by Kirsten in the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, “Kin” meaning gold and “Tsugi” meaning joinery. A central tenet of the philosophy underpinning Kintsugi is that the accumulation of flaws and imperfections are inevitable consequences of life and the Kintsugi technique is allegorical, reminding us that, just like a chipped or broken piece of pottery, a vision of life that has been broken can be restored in a way that is even more beautiful than the original.
For our family, the allegory is powerful. Conor’s accident was a tragedy that shattered the vision of life which we had built for ourselves. It goes without saying that if there was any possible way to take away Conor’s tetraplegia and have him whole again we would take it in a heartbeat. However there are no immediate or obvious prospects for that and so, as we attend to the task of finding our new normal, we have all become aware that, even at this early stage – less than 3 ½ months after the accident – there have been some undeniable “threads of gold”.
The most obvious of these, and the one that has, quite rightly, attracted most attention, has been Conor’s personal response, which has revealed that he is more resilient, mature, grounded and balanced than we could ever have reasonably expected. This side of him was revealed very early on. For example, while he was in the intensive care unit, before he was breathing independently and when the only muscles below his neck that were not completely paralysed were the ones that bent his elbows - and he was too weak to scratch an itch on his own face - one of his uncles went in to see him for the first time. When he saw Conor he was overcome and said “My goodness, I am really so very sorry that this terrible thing has happened to you Conor” to which Conor replied “thank you, but I guess that, as I’m one of 20 cousins, one of us was bound to have a terrible accident, so I’m happy to take one for the team”. It was said completely without artifice, without a hint of bravado. Importantly, his statement also has a reasonable basis in fact, as the only place where immunity-pins are handed out is MasterChef.
Of course, Conor remains a bog-standard 17-year-old in many other ways and we have the same boring battles familiar to many, including how much screen time is enough screen time and whether it is reasonable for him to expect to go to a party if we don’t know the parents and we have only just found out about it. But on the whole it is fair to say he is playing the cards he has been dealt with remarkable aplomb.
Other threads of gold – ones that may never have been revealed so fully or vividly – have also emerged. For example, our children really, genuinely care for each other. This isn’t anything we ever doubted, but in the normal daily grind of life we hadn’t encountered many situations in which that assumption had been tested. However as Conor was being transported by ambulance from BBC to the hospital, he asked me to make two phone calls – one to his sister Georgina and one to his brother Seamus – because he thought they would be worried about him and he wanted to re-assure them he was ok. Georgie was in Melbourne and Seamus was at Spendour on the Grass and both of them dropped everything and came to the hospital as fast as they could. Their response was touching, particularly Seamus’s, as anyone will appreciate who has had a post-school child that has scored a three-day pass to Splendour!
We’ve also discovered that, at 16 years of age, Conor has managed to forge incredibly strong and deep friendships with a wide circle of both boys and girls who haven’t just accepted him, his disabilities and his wheelchair; they have embraced them. Ever since the day of the accident there has been a steady stream of regular visitors to the hospital and whenever we get Conor away from hospital and out into the world, his friends are always on hand, in an enveloping red and black swarm, to whisk him away from his parents and off to where he’d rather be – with his friends at the rugby, at a party at Ned’s, at wheelchair rugby, at the semi-formal or, just recently, back at School.
And one final, and extremely prominent thread of gold – mentioned in the opening paragraph – has been the support that we have received from friends and family. This support has been completely overwhelming in the sense that Bec and I are acutely aware that the support comprises literally thousands of acts of kindness from individuals who have, in many cases, really stretched themselves to provide it. We find that overwhelming because there simply are not the hours in the day to track down and adequately (or inadequately) thank everybody who has provided it. So if you are reading this and you are one of the many, many people who have said or done or bought something to support us during this very stressful time, please know that it was enormously appreciated.
The Kintsugi notion that physical flaws and imperfections should be celebrated and that brokenness – physical, emotional or financial – provide a unique opportunity for growth have been a helpful way of reflecting on our life since Conor’s injury. Specifically, there is no doubt that we have been able to find threads of gold in our lives that we simply could not have known without the tragedy of Conor’s spinal cord injury. The journey has not been easy but, at the risk of overstretching the allegory, I am sure that the art of repairing broken pottery such that its beauty is enhanced is not an easy one to master either.
By Sean Tweedy