Much More Than A Safety Net

A few weeks ago, I received a message from the super lovely dynamo that is Jyllie Jackson, CEO & Creative Director of the Lismore Lantern Parade. There was, apparently, “something” in their new(ish) shed that Jyllie was sure that I would be interested in seeing. Her message was so super vague that I was of course super intrigued. I had only ever been in their shed once before … the old shed that is … I had spent a few hours there with many others that had laboured for entire days after ex-Cyclone Debbie had heartlessly attempted to drown all of the lanterns. We swept filthy contaminated floodwater from the shed floor with push brooms and tap water. We gingerly lifted paper lanterns, upending them to rid them of their toxic edemas that had collected after being submerged by metres of flood water.  We triaged sometimes sodden, sometimes disintegrating, lanterns onto various piles outside, ranging from the surprisingly healthy to the sadly irrecoverable. It was heart breaking work … countless hours had been invested by countless community members in birthing these once gorgeous lanterns. When Jyllie invited me on a tour of the new shed that weekend, I eagerly accepted. 

Jyllie bounded up from her desk to meet me at the front door before I had even had a chance to open it. She was clearly very busy, but also clearly very keen to show me everything … and something. The shed is a fascinating place … a community within a community. Jyllie danced me slowly through the shed whilst recounting stories of the lanterns and of her incredibly committed volunteers. She showed me the open plan administration zone and the wheelchair accessible bathroom. The ethos of the shed was clearly to be as inclusive as possible. I was shown the technical area where all of the batteries and cables are maintained and stored. I was shown where the constituent lantern parts were stored. There were lanterns crammed everywhere in various stages of health and recuperation.  I was impressed at how neat and tidy the shed was, but I also sadly realised that I had been comparing it to the old shed where I had seen dozens of sodden lanterns washed off shelves onto the ground. I was super impressed with their recovery, and awed at how much work must have gone into that recovery.

I was led past the more-carefully-than-was-expected sorted and stacked collections of lanterns, weaving backwards and forwards across the shed, all the while edging gingerly towards the rear of the shed. It was clear by now, if it hadn’t been already, that I was being led towards … something. As we moved closer to the rear of the shed, Jyllie began recounting the story of a local CBD shop owner that had created two rooster bust lanterns and one heart lantern that lived for a time in his shop window during the Enchanted Windows program. The shop owner and his friend had asked Jyllie if she could make the roosters “paradeworthy”, by adding bottom halves to them, including a pair of legs each, and adding carrying frames. Jyllie agreed, but shortly afterwards realised that two roosters simply wouldn’t be able to cohabit the shed, as they would be constantly fighting. Jyllie broached this subject, first with the roosters themselves, and later on with the shop owner and his friend. Everybody was in agreement: one of the roosters needed to transition to become a hen. Right on cue we came to an abrupt halt in front of a towering handsome avian couple … a rooster and a hen … just as Jyllie, whilst beaming as only Jyllie can beam, said “I would like you to meet Rene and Roxana … Roxana the rooster that needed to become a hen”. I was quite stunned and utterly lost for words. I felt like I needed to cry, but tears weren’t to flow just yet. My mind was still grappling with the inter-connecting layers of Jyllie’s story, and what those layers meant for each of the story’s characters.

I have lived in 17 towns and suburbs in my (so far) 49 years. It took me 34 years to get to number 16. All but 1 of my subsequent 15 years have been spent in my 17th town, and if I have any say in the matter, I am pretty sure that there won’t be an 18th. I live in a town where everything that can possibly be named after someone, is named after someone … streets, bridges, carparks, buildings, parks and playgrounds … all named after those that have contributed somehow to our community. Of course I had never expected anything to be named after me. I had spent my whole life until my transition commenced remaining as inconspicuous as it was humanly possible to be. Yet I now have the honour of having a beautiful lantern named for me … a much more auspicious naming than a carpark, I reckon.

Jyllie and I went back to her open plan office and talked for hours about life and love and volunteering. Walking out of the shed heading home afterwards, it became clearer to me than ever that my community was so much more to me than a safety net … a safety net only protects you if you fall … after you fall … what we have here in Lismore is more like a community-sized 3D bamboo, cane & wire support structure, covered with paper for a modicum of privacy and containing an internal light for illumination, providing support at every turn and wobble for many who need it. When I arrived home I sat quietly to consider, and attempt to place into perspective, what had just unfolded. Tears finally flowed.