China Changed My Life (Heart Disease)

September 9, 2016

china1-1Ten years ago today I landed in China with Ashley, Eric, Gail, Liz, Alex, Jeff, Narelle and a few others on a trip that changed my life. It’s hard to put into words exactly how that change came about. In fact I was unaware of the change until the last day when we are sitting in Shanghai waiting to fly out, and using the spare time to reflect on what we had seen and done up the Yellow River. I was asked what impact the trip had had and initially resisted the idea that there had been any deep impact at all. But even as I nurtured that thought another realisation crashed in and I understood I had been completely disarmed by the people I had met, especially those deep in the minority communities of the old city of Xian.  And in that comprehension I also saw that the barriers I had put up around myself (it’s handy to do when you work in the intelligence world) meant the youth, who I had led and mentored in numerous places since I was a teenager were people I could not name, with the exception of two young men, and those only because they had followed me into the military. I resolved even before I left Shanghai that I would do what I could to pull those barriers down, to allow myself to get closer and to intentionally build relationships that had real meaning. That has worked for me in the most part though it has also created some bumpy incidents that could have been easily avoided had I remained under my old shell. But despite the bumps  I prefer living with what I decided I would become as I sat in that room in Shanghai. It’s a far richer life by any measure.

Sometime in 2010, four years after that epiphany I scribbled the following reflection on that trip, and the subsequent engagement with a group of young people, who by then had been taken to Hong Kong and had been out to the farm on two trips. I’m playing with the idea that my heart had been affected. As indeed it truly has – I’m still a work in progress.


Congenital Heart Disease


My heart is swollen with

Cardiac friendship

Threatening to

Rupture and disarm me.


It’s an affliction I’m sure

I was born with but

Other lifes busying prompting

Drowned the sound of the sistole,


Not helped by a diet of tough

Bran of distance and oats

Of on-guard. Serial dining which

Hardened arteries and clogged valves


Until an affliction of

Yellow River fever strained

The valves: mitral and tricuspid

Fluttered in the Sino heat


As the heart’s designer

Changed my diet and prescribed

A dose of richness and generosity

Of spirit, laced with their humility


After which the arteries have

Been softening with age

And the ventricles

Gaining fitness by exposure


To the healthy hearts of

Others modelling their

Own generosity and patience

And compassion and love.


There is a recipe for

Stuffed heart: but this

Seasoning is sweeter still

For it mixes youth and sage


Wisdom learned and wisdom still

Unforged but offered up

In kindness anyway, in

The blitheness of youth


Which expects healing when

It is applied. And behold

The seasoning works and my

Heart is surprised. And stuffed


Full of friendship. Full of

Goodness. With encouragement.

Unblinkered faith. Full of an overflowing

Cup of kindness which daily flow


Out of the Creator

And through kith and kin who reach

In and daily massage my heart into

It’s healthy, swollen shape.


It was the one I was formed with.



One Response to “China Changed My Life (Heart Disease)”

  1. Ashley on September 10th, 2016 11:06

    Is it really ten years ago? In some ways, it seems quite recent – but in many others it seems like many lifetimes ago. It deeply impacted me, too – and I’m particularly pleased to have been present to witness the birth of PickledEel.

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