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FLOUNDERING AFTER BALI

By Howard Langmead
Published The Age 9 November 2002

Penny and I had a holiday in Bali, as so many Australians have. I did not particularly like Kuta, except for the large number of eating places where you could watch your selected fish being barbecued with chillies and garlic.

We did not go into nightclubs, at least not at night. I preferred riding a bicycle around the hill country of Ubud, and snorkelling at Lovina Beach on Bali's north coast.

My Bali trip had its traumas. I went to the Bali Bird Park and a toucan, who was supposed to sit quietly on my shoulder for a photo, pecked me on the ear. I went to Monkey Forest, and a monkey, who had accepted my generous offer of a peanut, turned back and bit my arm. After that I decided not to visit Elephant Park.

On Sunday October 13, at 6:30am the ABC radio brought me the news of the bombing in Bali. 21 people were feared dead. Later in the day the news worsened and the horror of the event began to sink in. Throughout the week, I was saddened by images of anxious and grieving families, I absorbed the background stories of missing, and listened critically to analysis the event and forecast of the future.

At church a woman, whose good friend was still missing in Bali, asked me to help her choose a bible reading for a service being planned for her friend. I felt her anxiety and pain. We chose Psalm 46:1-7 which begins with, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble".

Soon after, I locked the church, went home and packed for two weeks' holiday with Penny along the Victorian coast.

After a week of sleeping in, reading in bed, and walking on the beach, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach didn't subside. I knew it was not the usual stress of preaching and performing. I was floundering in a mixture of emotions, including sadness, anxiety and fear. I was trying to make emotional and intellectual sense of terrorist bombings, sniper killings, and university deaths.

Near the pier at Lorne I found the Lorne Fisheries. There were two blackboards outside the shed. One had the prices of various fish, and the other had me transfixed. Scrawled across the top was, "A World Without Compassion: Bali-Monash". Beneath that I read:

My hope has been uprooted like a tree,
Despite my effort life has come to naught.
I' m sick and tired of being sick and tired
And wearied by my constant futile thought.
The things I loved have all been blown away
And I myself am turning into dust.
But still I seek the one who turns the tides.
In him and him alone I put my trust.

It was signed Colin Bailey, dated 30/10/02. It was a strangely cathartic and communal experience to read my feelings on the fishmongers wall.

The young guy who served us said his boss had written the poetry and that they were about to close. Did we want any fish?

Appropriately, I chose the flounder, reflecting on the ancient tradition of fishermen being spokespeople for God. I took it back to our cabin and barbecued it with sweet potatoes. A glass of red completed the sacrament.

I still flounder, and still feel anxious about threats of terrorism and pre-emptive war. And I still seek the God of the tides, of barbecued sweet potatoes, and of the fishmonger.

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