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A story of change, Part I

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

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Recently I was invited to tell a story at this extraordinary event. This is the first part of that story. More to come in the next few days. 

What I wanted to tell you today was the story of how change happens. Because it’s the story I’m obsessed with. Because it’s a big important story. And because we all need to be reminded, sometimes, that change does happen.

From time to time I lose faith that the long arc of history, as Doctor Martin Luther King once said “bends towards justice.” In those moments I feel hopeless, defeated, as though the forces that bend towards greed and destruction might be stronger. And when I hit that low, I remember the words of legendary civil & women’s rights activist Heather Booth who said:

“It’s always a difficult moment when there are forces of entrenched interest that are fighting against real people who want to see decent human needs fulfilled. So there has always been a fight.”

There has always been a fight. It has always been difficult. And still, there has always been change.

There was a time when schools, restaurants and public transport were segregated by race in many parts of the United States.

There was a time – not very long ago – when many people in New Zealand couldn’t marry the person who they loved simply because of their sex.

Change does happen. But how does it happen? How do we get from A to where we want to B?

This is the question I’m obsessed with at the moment. It’s a question I’ve been obsessed with all my life.

Which is why my friend Gemma convinced me to tell the story I know best – the story of how change happens in my own world. How I went from being a 21 year old Brethren bride in Hamilton, to a corporate lawyer in Auckland, to a human rights defender in Gaza, to a fairy in Ponsonby, to a UN peacekeeper in Afghanistan. And most recently, to a restauranteur and rabble-rouser in Wellington. Which turns out to be an interesting case study in how change happens.

Because if my life is anything to go by, we should expect change to happen when we least expect it.

calfday

I grew up on a dairy farm just outside of Tokoroa. Along with my entire extended family I attended the Open Brethren church in Putaruru. I was still attending the Open Brethren church when I went away to Hamilton to study law. I married the son of the pastor of another Brethren church a few days after I turned 20 and we moved together to Auckland where I worked as a corporate litigator, he as an accountant.

When our marriage didn’t work, and we separated and then divorced, it felt like a profound failure. As somebody who had tried to live a life that honoured the teachings of the church, I found it very difficult to stay in the church. I found it difficult even to stay in the country. So I left. I separated from my husband, packed my bag, flew to South Africa and walked for about 11 months.

I discovered that there was a big world out there and people believed all sorts of things, and people had done worse things than getting divorced. Which was quite an important thing to discover.

Even more importantly, when my parents responded to my news with no judgement, only sadness and love, I realised they didn’t love me because I’d been a good Christian Brethren girl, and followed all the rules, they loved me anyway. Which was a very important discovery to make.

More soon. If you have some stories you need to tell, but you are scared to tell them – consider joining Laurie Wagner and I in Alameda October 3-4 for: Forbidden Territory: Telling stories that could change the world

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2 Responses to "A story of change, Part I"

  1. Art Rosch says:

    Marianne, I always read you. I’ve been through a week during which I watched my father dying. I flew across the US twice. When I returned to California I wrote this poem. It’s just a poem. I want to share it with you.

    The Poem I Can’t Write
    Sept 22, 2015

    This is the poem that I can’t write.
    This is the tuning fork, the bells cast of Himalayan metal
    the one good note sounding on the broken piano.
    Where is it? Why can’t I write it?
    It’s just too beautiful. What muse would trust
    someone like me to utter the dreadful exquisite,
    the endless glory of the universe; who would
    confer such a gift upon me?
    Who would drift upon my head
    a net made of the finest weave, strands of strongest silk
    bands of fearless brass, atoms of noble metal
    radioactively gorgeous, so grave and sweet as to be
    the speech at my father’s funeral, the lament of a thousand pipes wailing across the valley where the trees dip in the wind.
    This is the poem I will write, whether or not I am worthy.
    Only I can stop me and I will not stop me, can not let go of the current,
    trapped in the grip of my own electricity, charging and burning my hands because I don’t care. I am simply too small. I am the poetic mouse who survives beneath the floorboards
    while a world clatters above me. I am the poem I have written.

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