Remember — having ground under your feet is a privilege.
Do you know what you would become without it?
This is Paddy Roe. He was an elder of the Gularabulu tribe of the Nyigina aboriginal people from Roebuck Plains in Australia.
He is telling a dreaming story. It is a story about the migration of a group of lizard-people, about a mother traveling with her children across a landscape away from a place they must leave. One-by-one, the lizard-people die as they journey along. “All dead everyone – but they all turn into lizard now”*
The last few days, I keep calling up the memory of Dilbar, a Rohingya refugee, as she tells her story to a PBS NewsHour Special Correspondent back in July. She says “We are like ants. We are nothing. It won’t take much to kill us. Just bomb us. Nobody will make a case against you, because we have no ground under our feet.” Her index and middle finger extend from her fist downward in the air, like little legs dangling with no surface to land on, a gesture that anchors the memory of her story in my own hand.
And then I come back to how Edward Said described the Palestinian condition in After the Last Sky (1999, p26): “How rich our mutability, how easily we change (and are changed) from one thing to another, how unstable our place – and all because of the missing foundation of our existence, the lost ground of our origin, the broken link with our land and our past.”
And then I stare in awe at the recent footage from Houston and from Barbuda, Anguilla, Key West….
And I return back to my starting place with SU EN. In addition to the world being big, she writes “a shape can change only when it accepts the necessity of surrendering space.”
And here I hesitate in an ethical uncertainty between which to feel, on the one hand, compassion for the terrible loss experienced by so many who are forced to surrender the spaces that grounded them — that made them feel “human” — and, on the other hand, reverence for an aesthetic beauty claimed for that space of groundless potential in which the flesh is “free” from the tyranny of human culture, the fixed habits of our pasts, and can become a path to infinite possibilities, to transformation, to resilience.
*Paddy Roe citation above: Reading The Country, by Krim Benterrak, Stephen Muecke, Paddy Roe, Revised Edition 1996, page 185