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Moving Forwards

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IMG_1388Persevering is hard work.

We can always look back with the benefit of hindsight and comment on what we would do differently. I have made heaps of mistakes, more than I care to admit. Very much far from perfect.

There is a quote that I like to repeat every morning, but it wasn’t until just now that I made sense of what it actually means for me on a personal level. The quote is:

If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.

The quote is written about external conditions, and that is the way I have always interpreted it. But I also now recognise that it applies equally to ourselves. If we wait until we are perfect, we would be better just to climb into bed and never show our faces again. Ever the best among us have flaws in one way or another.

So what to do? Make an audit of everything I could have done differently? That actually is helpful, because only be looking at our failures do we learn how to do things better. We must recognise that failure is but a temporary defeat and gives invaluable feedback.

I have felt incredible sheepish about putting this post out there, because of the link I am posting. I needn’t, but I do. And so the antidote is to put it out there.

I am taking the next steps in this journey, which has been difficult and come at much personal cost. There are lessons in this for the Design Forum, and the difficulty in undertaking this running (for all the faults of mine that have compounded the difficulty) has shown me that the running stunt and the Design Forum to open the conversation about improving the delivery of child survival are two separate parts. One follows the other.

You could call it naive of me to have initially thought back in 2010 that there would be an opportunity for a nice little gathering in each of the cities visited when the running was occurring. That might have been possible, but I don’t think it would have leveraged the potential from the conversation that will follow. We have an opportunity to make a difference, and that shouldn’t be lost in the superficial.

I was watching an interview that Bill Gates gave to an audience of the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year. The audience was relatively conservative, not that matters, and a question from the emcee towards the end of the interview struck me as incongruent with their typical approach towards seizing opportunity based on the free market and entrepreneurial endeavour. The question was along the lines of (to paraphrase): “okay, so you are a billionaire: what can we do to make a difference given that we are not billionaires?” as if to say: “well, we would do what you are doing except for the fact that we are not billionaires yet.”

Bill Gate’s response was a good one. Just start where you are. Now.

And so, let me shamelessly put this out there. I am cracking on, but I need the help from others. Would you help by sharing this link, and if you are able supporting me with a small contribution?

Here is the link in full. Please visit and read, then share. https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/epic-quest-to-honour-my-brother-s-legacy/x/1194797

Getting to Glasgow, Returning From New York

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IMG_0454My time in Seoul has now almost reached two months in duration. That was far in excess of what I had planned for the entire journey.

Straight up, the reasons for all of the delays, and all of the amendments in my route since leaving Australia have related to resources. Money.

It seems so crass, and I don’t know why it is such an obstacle for me to address, but it is.

It is my intention to take the next steps by flying to London, then onto Glasgow on Saturday. Flying direct to Glasgow would be too expensive.

I will work out the rest of the journey once I get to Glasgow, but it is important to note that I am now committed to this journey.

My brothers funeral is in Melbourne, and it is now outside of my reach to return for that. And so I must honour him by moving forward.

But this journey is not actually about me, and it is neither about my brother.

My brother has come to represent the issue of child survival for me in some respects. His son died 36 hours after birth due to medical complications. Even with the best possible medical support, we can’t cheat death. That said, he battled and for a time won in the fight against leukaemia. Ultimately, it was an aggressive infection that caused his death. The body is robust as it is fragile. And this journey is about the most vulnerable among us: children during their first five years.

If you listen to Bill Gates, you soon realise that child survival is not just about saving babies. Child survival is important because it is one of the key levers in the struggle to move countries out of extreme poverty. It is counter-intuitive. It would seem reasonable that reducing child mortality would just lead to overpopulation, but an analysis of historical trends shows that the opposite is true. Improved child survival leads to healthier and more sustainable communities.

Presently, I am embarked on a running stunt to paint a narrative for the journey ahead. I am running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. To date, I have completed seven of these runs and have three cities remaining. That brings be back to this issue of resources. I have the will, but the cost is prohibitive presently.

But why run? Why not just talk about it and solve the problem? The reality is that there are so many competing demands, and our understanding of the issue has been in some cases so poorly framed by the marketing spin of large not-for-profits, that a strong narrative is needed to look at this afresh.

More than that, this initiative is different. I am asking how might we use our networks to make a difference. It is not simply a case of leaning on governments, large philanthropists, or the aid agencies for that matter. All existing efforts in the fight for child survival are essential. But I do believe there is more we can do, and so that is why this series of Design Forum will take place.

The Design Forum will be held in each of the cities that I run in. The running is pathfinding the way ahead.

How badly do I want this?

Ultimately, that will coming down to asking people for their support. There is no way around that. The question is, what will the conversation be, and what will I do in exchange for their support.

After the last crowdfunding effort ended, it seemed clear that I had tapped out my networks. I was done. Or so it seemed.

My thinking is this: I need to stick with what I have. Sharpen it up. Explain it better. And give it all I have got. Really give of myself.

I am seriously wanting to address child survival. I am also excruciatingly sensitive to the fact that many people have generously given amounts to support this already. And their generosity alone is reason enough to continue.

I think given all of the events of the past two weeks, and the fact that it is brothers funeral tomorrow, I should recommit to a final crowdfunding campaign, with the amounts I am asking of people capped at small levels. Something like the opportunity to buy my brother a coffee for the last time, or to shout me Christmas dinner as I will be running across the festive season and intending to be back in Australia to celebrate New Year with my mum. I think I need to let people help define what this might involve.

That means I am looking at many people contributing small amounts of something like $5 or $24. And there would be something in exchange, but I don’t want to make it transactional.

Would it be too much to ask for 400 or so people do each contribute $24 across the next two weeks?

So this is my ask: please let me know what you think. I intend to post tonight, and somehow during the period of my brothers funeral, it would be awesome if we could spread the love to those who are able to support so that together we can make a difference. Forwarding an email or post to someone who wants to help is part of the team too, you know.

Let’s make this count. We are going to do it for all of us. Let’s roll.

The Inspiration That Comes From Self-Loathing

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IMG_2806It is time to continue this journey. The time to complete the last three runs has been far, far longer than I had anticipated, with great delays in between. A satisfying experience? Not really. In fact, not at all.

Let me rephrase that: it is time to continue the journey or to give it up.

My good friend gave me some good counsel earlier tis year. She said “look, all of this ambition is admirable, but you are not getting any younger. You can’t just wait forever. You really have to do it or give it up.” It wasn’t an ultimatum, it was good advice from a friend who cared.

And so I began. There have been plenty of mistakes along the way. Too many to mention. Stumbling forward in spite of myself, not really running in any heroic sense.

I avoided media earlier on because I knew deep down how pathetically inadequate my efforts were. I was hardly in a position to start, but at the same time had too much to lose by throwing my hands up and walking away. Besides, that is not my style.

And so I stumbled through this journey. Along the way a couple of friends unfriended me on Facebook over really petty stuff. Surprisingly, that took its toll as well. Was I just some misguided idiot?

And so I am now at that point, having been delayed in Seoul since my last run by almost a month now, and that run in Seoul taking place one month after I arrived. That is totally crazy.

This journey has always been ambitious. I never really appreciated how wildly ambitious it was at first. Would I have started if I knew this was going to be the trouble I would encounter? Hard to say.

The reality is that in the process of doing something, it changes you because of the fresh perspective you gain. Once changed, you can’t go back to how you were before. You see the world through fresh eyes, even if other people don’t.

In the midst of this, my brother died. Aren’t there more important things for me to be doing? Shouldn’t I play it safe? Return home to be with the family?

Besides which, how will I sustain this journey? Getting to Glasgow (my next city) is manageable, but flying home from New York (the final city) is well outside of my reach at the moment.

A friend asked me recently, how on earth did running have anything to do with child survival? Wouldn’t it just be better to raise money, or go any do some volunteer work somewhere, or just hold a gathering and talk about it? Why go to all this trouble?

It does remind me of the joke about the Irish swimmer who wanted to cross the English Channel. He made it two-thirds of the journey, and was so exhausted, he turned around and went back to where he bagan. It sounds like a stupid joke, but it actually makes sense. It is easier to stick with what you know than to go into unchartered waters.

Right now. I am about to dive back into those unchartered waters. It would be easier to go back to my brother’s funeral, but I really believe he would have wanted me to persevere. It was one of the things he admired in me.

What’s more is that my family are now almost expecting me to continue. My eulogy is prepared, and will be read by my sister. I think if I returned now, it would almost be a let-down, as much as everyone would be pleased to see me. It has the added benefit of giving people something to focus on in the post-funeral slump I would imagine too.

All of this at a time when an incredible event has rocked Sydney to the core. The strangest image just came across my Facebook feed. It was a friend taking a selfie in Martin Place with a steely look of resolve and some words about how sad we are all about the incident in Martin Place. Of course, he is right, but it is misplaced community spirit. We don’t need to wait for times of the worst to bring out the best in us.

And that is why I run. In my pathetically unfit, near broke, condition with no certainty of making it to the next city, let alone the end of the next lonely journey of 24km. I do it because I can, and we should. We should act now, today, and do what we can with what we have.

As I answered my friend, the running is important because more than just painting a narrative, I am seeing this journey afresh. I don’t mean this journey I am taking now, but the journey which you are all invited to participate in next year when we look to address this issue of child survival across a rolling series of Design Forum that stretch through the year.

Will we find answers? I don’t know, but none of us will know if we don’t try.

What I do know is that the investment in time has already paid off in terms of giving me fresh eyes to give this effort impact. That is a huge journey ahead next year, and I will be relying on all of the resourcefulness and guile that comes from this quest I am undertaking now, clumsily stumbling in the right direction, slowly but making progress.

The worst thing to do would be to wait until conditions are perfect because they never will be. Go now!

Good Grief

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Two Korean deep-fried pancakes I bought on the evening of my brother's death. One for each of us, but I had to eat them both.
Two Korean deep-fried pancakes I bought on the evening of my brother’s death. One for each of us, but I had to eat them both.

What a week for Sydney. Good grief. This is not to quote Lucy from the Charles Shulz cartoon series ‘Peanuts’, but a reflection on what it means to grieve well.

A friend of mine works nearby the Lindt Cafe has provided a commentary to how events have unfolded. Not a commentary like the media have made, and not a commentary about ‘Left v Right’. It was a very welcome series of personal reflections.

Her commentary has been about the human experience, from the time she heard about the incident while she was in her office at work, worrying about what she had left undone after vacating her office to the safety of home, to her own reflections about the concern and then horror that gripped the world united as the brutal final minutes unfolded.

Returning to work, she has described the sea of flowers in words and photos, opening a space for others to speak into as well. As she does that, the commentary turns to what other people are doing all across Martin Place and Sydney as if to observe them, and they all in their own petrie dishes of experience themselves.

This is but a snapshot of the grieving process we are all going through. But why do we grieve? It wasn’t us in the cafe. Why do we lay the floral tributes? They were unknown to us. These are beautiful gestures, and gives us a view of the full palate of human response.

Another friend dropped a lovely note into this conversation to this effect:

Grief, individual and collective, is a singularly unique experience. Some do it with dignity, some don’t know how to do it and some just exploit others.

The irony that this floral tribute is taking place in Martin Place bookending the Cenotaph at the George Street end is not lost on me either.

Understanding grief is probably right up there with understanding death for many Western cultures. Death and grief are no strangers to us. We know it. But it is to use the words of my other friend, they are also ‘a singularly unique experience’.

For me, this all happened in the wake of my brother’s death last week. Reflecting on my own response to his death has taught me a lot, and shown me more than I knew about family.

The night my brother died, I wandered around Seoul going to places where I could have visited with my brother if he ever had the opportunity to come there with me. The picture at the top of this blog is of two Korean deep fried pancakes which I bought: one for me and one for him. I had to finish both.

That sea of flowers. An enduring image that will last long after the flowers fade away.

We should strive to ensure our grief is a good experience. Good grief.

 

He’s Na Heavy. He’s Mi Brither

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stephen 2012This song has been on my mind since my brother died.

There is a small dug-out bar which plays all of the classics on vinyl. It is located next to the cafe I was sitting in when my brother died. The night he died, I went into the cafe and requested this song while having a quiet beer thinking that there would be no more opportunities to do that with my brother himself.

While the original version is from The Hollies, I prefer this cover recorded in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Like we are seeing in Sydney now, loss and tragedy brings the best out in everyone.

The title for the song comes from a story first recorded in 1884 of a scene in Scotland of a little girl struggling with her brother who she is dragging up some stairs in a bag. Somehow appropriate given the situation I find myself in, especially as I have my sights to head to Glasgow next.

The lyrics for this song are lovely, and need no explanation. Please read them, and I think you will also know why this song resonates with me at the moment.

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another

It’s a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there
Why not share?
And the load
Doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

He’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

Sorry Business

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In hospital with my brother and his son Xander. It is the difficult days that bring you closer together.
In hospital with my brother and his son Xander. It is the difficult days that bring you closer together.

My brother, Stephen, died last week fairly suddenly following what could best be described as complications associated with leukaemia. Stephen had faced every challenge thrown at him head on with impressive courage.

I was in Seoul when my mother told me he was admitted into hospital at the beginning of last week. I asked him if I should return immediately to see him in Melbourne, and he responded in his typically stoic and pragmatic manner: “No, don’t come back. Stay there and keep doing what you are doing.”

My brother and I shared a mutual admiration, which we showed in ways that other people might not recognise. His words to me were his way of showing not just that he valued what I was doing, but that he was proud of me for having the courage to set out on an uncertain journey.

This uncertain journey has become an epic quest which is called the 10 City Bridge Run, and framed around a stunt where I am running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. The point of the stunt is to open a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

The question of child survival was always a very personal matter for my brother and I. Together, we carried the small white coffin of his baby son Xander out of the church following his funeral when he had died of medical complications after living a short life of 36 hours.

Similarly, I learnt of the amazing ability of medicine to combat a disease like leukaemia after my brother was first diagnosed two years ago. Conversely, I saw the way disease can take its toll through my brothers death. The human body is remarkably resilient, and remarkably fragile both at the same time.

My good friend Gloria is a wonderful Aboriginal lady who has taught me a lot about Indigenous culture. We have been involved on a number of work tasks together where Aboriginal culture was the central issue driving the project.

She wrote me a lovely note in the wake of my brother’s death, and passed on her regards “as I went about my sorry business with my family” to use her words.

I responded with thanks, acknowledging her comment about sorry business, but still thinking it was more akin to a mourning period rather than something that you actually do. For all of the conversations I have had with many Indigenous friends over the years, the penny hadn’t dropped.

I think she understood, because she wrote back the next day with an unsolicited, lovely comment:

Trust your intuition cause whatever you do to respect his memory will be the right thing to do Matt. You will know what to do for sorry business 

It was a remarkable note, because I was wanting to make sense of my brother’s final words to me and it seemed at the time that the journey I was on was an appropriate way to honour my brother’s legacy. I began to see that my eulogy was to be action-orientated.

Gloria’s words didn’t persuade me either way, but they did frame my thoughts in a way that was helpful.

I contacted my family to talk about what I ought to do. This wasn’t a decision I was going to make independently or in isolation. They immediately understood exactly why I was thinking to do this and supported me entirely.

Now, I am writing this post from Seoul ahead of my brother’s funeral on Friday. I will remain in Seoul at that time, and go and sit quietly in the small cafe where I was when he died. It is a friendly place whose owners I know well and has good wifi. Just as I was able to be connected to my brother at the time of his death, I will also be able to be connected to my family at the time of his funeral.

After the funeral, I expect I will go and have a quiet meal somewhere with a few friends, and then set about recommencing my journey first headed towards Glasgow. It would be my intention to gather for a wake in New York after completing this journey, and be back in Melbourne in time to celebrate the New Year with my mother.

I wanted to write this here, both as a way of picking up the journey which was gone a bit silent over the last few weeks as I looked for inspiration for the way ahead, but also to explain why I chose to continue at a time when social expectation might be for me to return to be with my family at the funeral.

I know my brother would approve and admire my determination to persist, so that together we can make a difference to the lives of many.

The Story Of The Man With No Shoes

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IMG_2947Ben and I are old school mates from back in Melbourne. It is the same school also attended by my brother Stephen who regrettably died last week.

Shortly after Stephen’s death, Ben told me an old Chinese story about the man with no shoes.

In light of the events in Martin Place this week, I thought it was worth repeating here too. Suffice to say it has been a big week for everyone in Sydney as people pick up their lives and crack on.

As a side note before I write the story, I guess I was observing from afar with a unique perspective as my own grief was unfolding.

This is the story of the man with no shoes: The man with no shoes takes pity on the man with no feet.

Stay strong Sydney. There are better days ahead, and there will be challenges too.

The wonderful thing about empathy grounded in love is that it is an inexhaustible resource.

The light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.