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Walking with Fire, Chapter 9 from 'Pushups in the Prayer Room' by Norm Schriever

Walking with Fire, Chapter 9 from 'Pushups in the Prayer Room' by Norm Schriever

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Published by Norm Schriever
Walking with Fire, Chapter 9 from 'Pushups in the Prayer Room' by Norm Schriever. Reflections from a year backpacking around the world.' by Norm Schriever. This book has been called wild, crazy, dangerous, sexy, irreverent, pee-your-pants funny, and enlightening and has a 5 star rating on Amazon! Check it out at www.NormSchriever.com and I'd love to hear your feedback, so email me at hi@NormSchriever.com
Walking with Fire, Chapter 9 from 'Pushups in the Prayer Room' by Norm Schriever. Reflections from a year backpacking around the world.' by Norm Schriever. This book has been called wild, crazy, dangerous, sexy, irreverent, pee-your-pants funny, and enlightening and has a 5 star rating on Amazon! Check it out at www.NormSchriever.com and I'd love to hear your feedback, so email me at hi@NormSchriever.com

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Published by: Norm Schriever on Apr 04, 2012
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04/07/2012

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WalkingwithFire,Chapter9from'PushupsinthePrayerRoom'byNormSchrieverIfoundmyselfsittinginasmallrubberlifeboatcrammedinwitheightotherpassengers,Shanebymyside,bobbingonthewavesofSydneyHarboronacrystalsunnyday.WeworebrightorangeinflatablelifejacketscourtesyofQantasAirlines.Withsmallrubberpaddleswerowedashardaswecouldtowardtheskylineofbuildingsalongtheshore,whichloomedonthenearbyhorizonbutseemedmilesaway.Therewereotherboatsaroundus,probablyteninall,holdingwetandnervouspassengerswhorowedinthesamedirectionandhopedforaquickrescue.Whenwewerecloseenoughtobeseenbysomeoneontheshore,oneofthepassengerspulledoutaflaregunandshotoneoff,sendingaburstoflightintothecloudlessbluesky.Thecavalrycamequickly—acolumnofAustralianCoastGuardrescueboatswithredsirensblaring.Theypulledupnexttousandhelpedtheoccupantsofthelifeboatsclimbuparopeladder.Onepassengerfellin,cursingthecoldwater,buthewasOK,andotherthanthatweallgotonboardsafelyandheadedforthemarina.TheconcernedCoastGuardguysgaveusblanketsandwaterbottlesandaskedifanyonehadanymedicalissues.Soon,wewereatthedocksandwereherdedintothecafeteriaofanemergencyshelter.Nurses,doctors,policemen,andQantasofficialsinterviewedustomakesureeveryonewasallrightandtoassessourmedicalconditionssotheycouldstartareportoneachpassenger.They113WalkingWithFireNewZealandandAustralia,September/October1999PushupsinthePrayerRoomwantedtohearourstories,forit
’s
noteverydaytheyhadtopullplanecrashsurvivorsfromtheSydneyHarbor.AnurseinacrispwhiteuniformaskedmeifIwasOK.Yes,Iwas.Sheaskedwhatmynamewas,whereIhadbeensitting,andwhathappened.AsIgaveherthisinformationshediligentlywroteitonaclipboard.Iwassupposedtoaskheraboutsomething,somethingveryimportant,butIwasforgetting.Ithinkitwasaboutmywifeorsomething.Yeah,thatwasit;Iwassittingwithmywife,andwhentheplanecrashedintothewaterandweheadedfortheexitdoorswegotseparated.Iwassupposedtoaskaboutmywife
’s
whereabouts.“Haveyouseenmywife?”Iaskedmatter-of-factly.“WhentheplanewentdownshemayhavebeenhurtandIhaven
’t
seenhersince.”Thenurselookedatmewithmockconcern.DidIgetitright?Shit,thiswasbotheringme.Iputonefingerupandtoldhertoholdonasecond,thenpulledanindexcardfrommypocket.Ireaditandshookmyheadinrecognition,andthenaddressedthenurseagain.“Forgetaboutmywife...ummmm,Idon
’t
evenhaveawife.ButIthinkI
’m
havingaheartattack.”Ilookedatmyindexcardagain.“Yeah,definitelyaheartattack.MynameisIgorFederovandIamaRussianbusinessmanandI
’m
havingseverechestpainandmyleftarmisnumb.IrequireimmediatemedicalattentionandIamallergictocodeine.”Thenurselookedannoyed—mygaffehadcausedheradditionalpaperworkandshehadbetterthingstodoonthisSaturdaymorning.Shescratchedout“lostwife”andstartfillingin“possibleheartattack”ontheairplanecrashsurvivorreport.Isatbackcalmlyandlookedaround—therewereplanecrashsurvivorsongurneys,requestingtranslatorsandlookingforlostfamilymembers,allwithstraightfacesandbadaccents.IhopedthiswouldbefinishedsoonsoIcouldgodowntothebarinKing
’s
Crosstowatchthehorseracesandputbackafewpints.Itwasalljustadrill.QantasAirlineswasrunninganemergencyplanecrashresponsetestandneededvolunteers.IwasdoingsomeworkwiththeRedCrossinSydneyatthetime,mostlyonland-mineawarenessinwar-torncountries,butthentheyofferedmetheoppor-tunitytohelpwithaharborrescuedrill,soIgotonboard.114WalkingWithFire
 
Everyonewaspreparingfortheupcoming2000SummerOlympicsinSydney,sofiftyvolunteerswereroundedupandtakenouttothecenterofSydneyHarborinboatsthatsunnymorninganddroppedontoliferaftsandlefttotheirowndevices.We
’d
beenbriefedontheprocedure,andeachofushadanindexcardthatlistedourname,countryoforigin,andanyspecialcircumstancestoreport.TherearetwothingsIlearnedthatmorning:thatIneverwanttobestuckonalifeboatinthemiddleoftheoceanwithabunchofcomplainingtourists,andthatIamnotagoodactor.IonlyhadonelineonmyindexcardandIstillgotthatconfusedwithsomeoneelse
’s
andmessedthewholethingup.MyattemptsataRussianaccentsoundedlikeaconstipatedIvanDrago.Thenagain,ShaneonlydidslightlybetterasadehydratedJapaneseexchangestudent.Whenwewerereleasedfromduty,weheadeddowntoKing
’s
Cross,afunkyneighborhoodinthelow-rentareaofthecityfilledwithhostelsandbackpackers,pubsoverflowingwithTooheysbeer,andtattooparlors.SittinginbetweentheneighborhoodsofPottsPoint,ElizabethBay,RushcuttersBay,andDarlinghurst,King
’s
Crossiswheretheactionhappens—theredlightdistrictthat
’s
rumoredtobethelairofSydney
’s
organizedcrimering.IntheCross,youcouldgetblindlydrunkwhilerootingfortheAustralianrugbyteamorwatchachickfellatealiveboaconstrictoratastripbar,allwithinafour-blockradius.Ipreferredtherugbymatches.It
’s
alsowhereShaneandIfoundacheaphostel,asmymoneywasgettingreallytightbythesixthmonthoftravelingaroundtheglobe.IntheCrossIevendroppedmyinhibitionsandgotmytonguepiercedonawhim.Ifiguredwhythehellnot—ifIeverwantedtodosomethingcrazylikethat,thebesttimewaswhileIwastraveling,whenmyfamilycouldn
’t
seeitandIdidn
’t
haveabosstoanswerto.Iwassurethatgettingatongueringwouldattractallsortsoffreakywomen,butinrealityitjustgrewinfectedandsoswollenthatIwalkedarounddroolingandaccidentallybitingmytonguepainfullyeverytenminutes,andI
’m
prettysurethat
’s
notattractivenomatterhowfreakyyouare.AndKing
’s
Crosswasalsotheplacewhere,ifyouwerereallylook-ingforthem,youcouldseeAboriginespassedoutdrunkinalleywaysorsellingtrinketsfromtheshadowsofthestreet.Nooneseemedto115PushupsinthePrayerRoomnoticethem,ortalkopenlyabouttheirplight,orevenacknowledgetheminpassingonthestreet;it
’s
almostliketheywereaninvisiblepeople.OnthewaytothepubIpassedamansittingonthegroundunderatree.Hewaspainting,afewjarsandbrushesscatteredaroundhimandseveralcanvasesproppedupforsale.Hewasdark—hisskinsoblackthatheevenpaledmostAfricans,hiscurlyhairfallinginthick,brownringlets.Hehadroundedfeaturesandwasropedwithmuscle,wearingonlyapairofredrunningshortsandwalkingbarefoot.HesmiledandintroducedhimselfasNevilleOodgerooKneeboneandshowedmehisworkinprogress.Thecolorsjumpedoutatme—akaleidoscopeofredsandorangesandyellowssnakingaroundthepage.Therewerenolines,justaseriesoflittledotsincircularpatterns,butifIzoomedoutalittleitalsolookedlikeamap,oraneagle
’s-eye
viewofamountainrange,withakangaroointhemiddle.Everythingwasinterconnectedyetitsownseparateform,soIcouldn
’t
findwherethepaintingstartedorfinished,butittoldastoryinitsentirety.Hemixedandstirredpigmentsmadefromsmashedochre,clay,animalblood,andwoodash.AlthoughtheAborigineshadbeenpaintingonrockwallsanddriedbarkforthousandsofyears,itlookedeerilyfamiliar.IsawtracesofIndianart,oreventherootsofsymbolismandmovementthatIrecognizedintheworkofmodernartistslikeNewYorkgraffitistKeithHaring.IcomplimentedtheAboriginemanonhispainting.Hetiltedhisheadslightlyandlookedrightthroughmewithhisancient,sunburnteyes.TheAboriginesmaybethemostvenerablepeopleonearth.Theoldesthumanskulleverfounddatesback40,000years(sorry,creation-ists),butthere
’s
evidencethatdescendantsoftheAboriginesdateback125,000years.Toputitinperspective,that
’s
threeyearslongerthanBobBarkerwasthehostofThePriceIsRight.
 
OfcourseAustraliaisanisland,albeitahugeonethat
’s
actuallyacontinentallandmasssurroundedbysmallerislandslikeTasmania,sothefirstinhabitantsmigratedoverfromIndiawhenthetwoland-masseswerecloser.Foreons,theyhadtherunoftheland,livinginloosetribesbrokenfurtherdownintohordes,clans,andtotemicgroupsthatheldasfewastenpeople,butifneededtheywouldgatherupto1,000peopleformeetings.Theyhadnoneedforaformal,written-out116WalkingWithFiregovernment;economy;orlaws,butfollowedancientcustomsandlawsmappedoutinthestarsinthenightsky,calledtheSonglines.Theylivedinharmonywiththeland,believingthattheyaretheearthjustasmuchastheyareontheearth—it
’s
allperfectlyinterconnectedinonereality.Atonepoint,therewere750,000Aboriginesspeaking250languagesanddialects—butthenthewhitemancamewhenthefirstBritishfleetlandedinBotanyBayin1788.TheBritishhelpedthemselvestotheareaknownasNewSouthWales,establishingitasapenalcolonyinthelate1700s.BypenalcolonyIdon
’t
meantheywerealldicks,thoughthatmaynotbetoofaroff,butthattheBritishshippedtheircriminalstotheislandforaprisonsentenceofisolationandharshconditions.DiseaseandmistreatmentbythewhitesettlersthinnedtheranksoftheAboriginestoonlyabout90,000in1900,threateningtoextincttherace.TheAboriginalculturewasalmostwipedoutbytheBritishmigrantsviaanintegrationoftheAboriginesintomodernsociety(orattemptsatgenocide,dependingonwhoyouask)calledtheStolenGeneration,ortheStolenChildren.Forahundredyears,from1869untilasrecentlyasthe1970s,theAustraliangovernmentandtheChristianchurchforc-iblyremovedAboriginalchildrenfromtheirhomesandplacedtheminspecialmissionaryschools(orprisons,dependingonwhoyouask)withtherationaleofconvertingthemtoChristianity.ThegovernmentandchurchrippedfamiliesandculturesapartandbasicallykidnappedthesechildrentocreateapermanentunderclassthatmimickedtheirWestern/Christianbeliefsystem.Andthenat18yearsold,thesechildrenwereturnedout,lostwithoutthesupportoffamilyoranunderstandingoftheirtruecul-ture.Eventheirnamesandlanguagewerewhitewashed.ThedamagetothepsycheoftheAboriginalpeoplewasdevastating,andmanyofthemendedupinthecitieswheretheyfacedcrime,poverty,drugs,andalcoholaddiction.Theiridentity,theirlivesreally,hadbeenstolenfromthem.Nowadays,theAborigineshaveregeneratedtoabout400,000people—roughly2%ofAustralia
’s
population,buttheystillremainapermanentunderclassinmodernsociety.Therearefewgoodschools,fewergoodjobs,andnotmanyopportunitiesfortheAborigines.Until117PushupsinthePrayerRoomrecently,theyhadnopoliticalorsocialvoice,butinthe1990samove-mentofreconciliationandreprisalsstartedhealingthosewounds.Atleasttheirplightwasbroughttolight,muchofitthroughmainstreamexposuretotheircultureandart.WhenIarrivedinAustraliaIhadnoideawhotheywereorwhattheyhadgonethrough,butseeingthemanunderthetreeandhisbeautifulpaintingsstokedmycuriosity,andinsomesmallwayconnectedmetotheirstory.Iwasbeginningtounderstandjusthowimportanteachperson
’s
lifestorytrulywas,howthethreadsofourindividuallivesformedarichtapestryofexistence,documentingthecourseofourpast,andasourthreadswereinterwoven,howitshowedourfuture.WhenIstartedmytriparoundtheworld,Iwasjustlookingforadventureandabigparty,butafterawhilethatlifestyleheldlessandlessappealtome.Iwasatacrossroadsofconsciousness,forthefirsttimeaskingmyselfsomeimportantquestionsaboutlifeandmyplaceintheworld.HowcouldInotaftereverythingI
’d
seen?IbegantotrulycomprehendjusthowluckyIwastobeborntoagoodmiddle-classfamilyintheUnitedStates.Ihadplentyoflove,support,foodonthetable,andIneverworriedaboutsafetyorhavingaroofovermyhead.

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