Jaewynn McKay: Making our own special brand of magic

Thursday January 16, 2020 Written by Published in Opinion
By the time Celia Lashlie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she had time just to pass on some wisdom learned from the mistakes she’d made. “I learnt too late …” CELIAFILM.COM 20011530 By the time Celia Lashlie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she had time just to pass on some wisdom learned from the mistakes she’d made. “I learnt too late …” CELIAFILM.COM 20011530

OPINION:

Knowing that you’ve already had the majority of New Years in your lifetime helps to put things in perspective: life is short, be kind to yourself and others.

 

January 1 is the first day of the civil year in the Gregorian calendar used by most countries including our own.

Other cultures observe their traditional or religious New Year’s Day according to their own customs, sometimes in addition to a (Gregorian) civil calendar

For example, Chinese New Year, the Islamic New Year, the traditional Japanese New Year, the Jewish New Year and Matariki (the New Zealand Maori New Year) are the more well-known examples – none of these New Year celebrations occur on January 1.

For some New Year is just another day to party; for others it is often the time we reflect on the year just concluded and set goals for the year approaching.

Sometimes these goals are to eat and drink less, exercise more, read more, spend less time on social media and more time really talking to and being with family and friends; often they are deeper.

New Year is also the time many of us give thanks for all the people we have in our lives who love us and whom we love, and we think of all the loved ones we have lost and mourn again.

This New Year I spent time reflecting on my life, my family, my career, the people I spend time with conscious that my life is well over half done. I questioned what I had achieved, why I am living where I do, my priorities and what if anything my legacy will be. I was brutal and honest in my overdue analysis.

And then a couple of days ago I happened upon the Celia Lashlie documentary Celia.

I’d met Celia a couple of times and always admired her gutsiness and her work. The doco (which I recommend people watch) confirms what a woman and incredible trailblazer and social justice advocate she was.

Married at 19 and solo mother of two by her mid-20s, Celia did a degree in anthropology and Maori and went on to become New Zealand’s first female prison officer in a male prison and a boss of Christchurch Women’s Prison before becoming a tireless worker for social justice and working with broken, often chaotic families.

Celia was also a writer, a storyteller, a compelling speaker. She knew her stuff and often spoke of the “poverty of spirit and bleakness of life”. Her books: Journey to prison: who goes and why; It's about boys: the Good Man Project; He'll be OK: growing gorgeous boys into good men;  and Power of mothers all talk about causes and solutions to poverty, abuse, domestic violence, prisons, relationships between sons and their mothers.

Celia maintained that mothers are the most important person in a child’s life and that more emphasis and resources should be invested there. “Women have amazing voices and we need to own that.”

Spiritual but not religious, Celia in her dying days – as in the two days before she died, when the filming of the documentary started – says in each of us there is a yearning of the spirit, that we are all here to make a contribution, we all have a purpose and carry with us “our own special brand of magic”.

Celia died in early 2015, about three months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that had moved to her liver – palliative care was all she had available. “I had signals to take care of me to stop saving others. I had the warnings and ignored them. I didn’t pay attention, I should have said enough, stop, can’t do this anymore. I learnt too late, my body is stuffed, broken, no coming back.”

Celia was just 61 when she died, with so much unfinished work and a lot more to contribute to her community and country.

All in all, a very sombre start to my year. But what Celia’s film got me thinking was that I need a clearer vision and purpose; knowing that you’ve already had the majority of New Years in your lifetime helps to put things in perspective!

Life is short, be kind to yourself and others en route to realising “our own special brand of magic” and as a former colleague often says, be the best version of yourself.

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