Not Pittsburgh

I call and invite myself to visit with my friends David and Nancy in Pittsburgh. Nancy is a paediatrician and David a paediatric psychiatrist. Their lives in work are an inspiration to me. I get onto David. He’s welcoming and hospitable as always. ‘We’ll love to have you. What are your dates, Howard?’

‘Last week in October.’

‘That’s unfortunate’, said David, ‘I’ll be attending the meeting of the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at that time, in Seattle. You couldn’t come to Seattle, could you?’

I can come and I do. And so I don’t go to Pittsburgh.

In Seattle, a sizeable city where the rain falls, coffee shops and bookshops abound – as in Melbourne. The coffee is good, just about good enough to compensate for the weather. Like Melbourne, Seattle is a UNESCO World City of Literature. I feel at home in Seattle’s mists and drizzle, with Seattle’s coffee and bookshops, and in the city’s richness of cultural endowment.

I attend the conference and I soak up the latest research into adolescent mental health. I see how my friend David knows everyone, how they cherish and venerate him, how the younger researchers find him inspiring. Over thirty years’ leading child psychiatry in Pittsburgh David has contributed richly to his field. Adolescents without number he saves from death by despair. A few years back I see him at his work, one-on-one with kids whose lives are blighted from the start. I see and I marvel at the pioneering work that keeps these kids alive and helps them thrive.

It turns out the Academy are honouring David, choosing him to give the Plenary Address. On occasions like this Americans enjoy pomp and formality. The Plenary is a grand event. Every delegate attends. A great hall fills. David and his fellow Illuminati – numbering perhaps one hundred – occupy tiered rows of seats facing the audience. The audience of seven hundred delegates and their friends and spouses fills the remaining rows. Oratory bursts into flower, moving with the spirit from Grandee, to Honoree, to Celebrity, to Worthy Worker. As Yeats wrote, ‘…all’s accustomed, ceremonious’.

I sit in the front, opposite my friend, myself aglow in his glory. David sits, pregnant with the words that will distill his wisdom. But before he will speak, we must hear from a Traditional Leader of the Peoples native to this area. Her name, we read, is Connie McCloud. A short, stout woman rises to her feet before us. She is not young. I notice her heavily tinted spectacles. You don’t need sunnies in Seattle; perhaps her sight is impaired. The woman does not move until a younger man with brown skin offers an arm, which she accepts, and she descends ponderously to the lectern. The President of the Academy introduces the speaker: ‘ It is an honour for me to present Connie McCloud to offer us her Blessing and her Welcome. Miss Mc Cloud has led her people, the Puyallup, for over thirty years.’  Someone adjusts the microphone to her height. Connie McCloud stands and regards us, visitors to her lands. She thrusts a fleshy arm upwards and she gives voice.

The voice is at one moment strong, freighted with pride and feeling, the next moment faltering beneath that heavy freight. The woman tells us proudly of her country, of its sacred mountain, its waters, its nourishing salmon, its deer, its skies and clouds and forests. ‘We have always been here! Despite all attempts to bring that to an end, we have always been here!’ The voice rises and the woman declares, ‘And God damn it, we are still here!’

She flings her stout arm backward and upward: ‘Our sacred mountain, which you will be told is Mount Rainier, is Tacoma. A newcomer named it for a friend of his, a magistrate named Rainier. Mister Rainier never visited these lands. He never saw our mountain.’  I’m reminded of Alice Springs, named for Alice Todd, absentee wife of the telegraph surveyor. The true name of that place is Mpartwe.

The speaker speaks of her lineage. She names her father, names his, then traces both to the brother of Great Chief Seattle. (As far away as Australia we’ve know that name for the lines attributed to him upon the imminent surrender of his lands: ‘Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.’)

At length Connie Mc Cloud says, ‘Here is my blessing. Here is my prayer for your success here in our lands. Here is my prayer that your wise people, your leaders, will find a cure for this suicide that takes away our young people.’ Oratory comes to its end as Connie Mc Cloud bursts into song. None of us non-native persons has heard song such as this. An ageing woman’s voice rises and falls, consonants and vowels sewn together into a strange fabric of slow rhythms and novel patterns, make their way into our stilled being. A sense of something solemn, something authentic and ancient and potent, penetrates us. The song rolls along, a river of sound that flows, from age to age, with steady pace, to its last syllable. We know a serious peace. I look up. David is mopping his eyes even as I do the same.

https://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article203194544.html

When at length David does speak, it is of death – of the premature loss of our young at their own hands. David is not a morose person. His rubicund features glow with ready playfulness. The life and the play reside alongside the gravitas of the protector of young lives. David’s theme this evening is ‘Saving Holden Caulfield.’  The reference is to Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, in which Holden Caulfield imagines himself as the catcher of children who tumble helplessly over a sheer cliff at the edge of a ryefield. David and his colleagues are the catchers below the ryefields from which our true life teenagers leap.

David begins with a light-hearted remark that I don’t catch. He twinkles and his audience relaxes. Then it’s down to business: ‘After all these years we’re seeing not a fall in teenage suicide, but a rise. After all these decades of research and treatment we’re not winning. It’s not as if we don’t know what works: research has shown us what works; we’re simply not implementing it. After these many years in the field my mind turns to retirement, to enjoying the grandchildren. But there’s that graph’ – David points to the rising line of trend on his slide – ‘and I’d like to see it point downward before I leave the field.’

David flies back to Pittsburgh, to Nancy and his children and his grandchildren. His house stands 500 yards from The Tree of Life Congregation where a family gathers on Shabbat to name their eight-day old baby boy.  A man posts on Facebook, ALL JEWS HAVE TO DIE. The man enters the congregation and the following are named among those who die:

• Joyce Fienberg, 75, of Oakland;

• Richard Gottfried, 65, of Ross;

• Rose Mallinger, 97, of Squirrel Hill;

• Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, of Edgewood;

• brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, of Squirrel Hill, and David Rosenthal, 54, of Squirrel Hill;

• married couple Bernice Simon, 84, of Wilkinsburg; Sylvan Simon, 86, of Wilkinsburg;

• Daniel Stein, 71, of Squirrel Hill;

• Melvin Wax, 88, of Squirrel Hill;

• and Irving Younger, 69, of Mount Washington.

The Work is Great

After I failed to save his aged father from the march of time and a
meeting with Mister Death, I met a secret Australian hero. His name is
Don Palmer.
Don is a passionate man. He used to work for God.  His job as a
minister of religion offered good prospects for long-term employment
but the Boss was a perfectionist and Don left.
He retired and set up an organization called MALPA. Malpa aims to
create change in indigenous communities by harnessing the energies of
the young and the authority of the Elders. One of its projects is the
Child Doctors initiative, an idea that Don pinched from remote
communities in Peru, as well as other spots on the globe not well
favoured by health services.
The initiative is brilliant. I describe it in my forthcoming novel,
“Carrots and Jaffas” (watch this space): small children are selected
and licensed by elders to receive and transmit health and hygiene
messages to their peers and families.
The personnel are blackfeller kids; no whitefellers get rich, none are
overpaid in Don’s program.
Don visited Utopia – birthplace of the Aboriginal art movement that
has beautified our lives and put Australia on the world map of modern
art.
The art is beautiful, the conditions that Don saw are otherwise.
Don writes (in part):

Dear Friends

I have just returned from Utopia. The name Utopia is an Orwellian joke, surely.
What I saw is a national disgrace.
In tiny communities the sewerage is not being collected by the
council. It is thought to be as punishment for
people like Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and her mob trying to stand on their
own feet. She says this is “slow genocide”. With naked children
playing where the septic tanks spew out across the land around their
hovels it would take a brave person to say she is wrong. Except it is
pretty speedy genocide if my knowledge of the effects of hookworm is
anywhere near correct. Some children played in urine soaked t-shirts.
Meanwhile our PM appears in a
star studded media event declaring her love of Aboriginal people and
the Close the Gap progress.
Some said that the Labor party is spooked by the
mass black vote for the CLP and will shamelessly try to parade their
“sincere concern” – according to the bloke we stayed with in Utopia –
Gary Cartwright, an ex Labor politician in the NT. He says he could
not bear to vote for Labor again.

Those at the impressive health clinic are delighted we (ie Malpa) are
going to be involved.
They have been impressed with the effectiveness of the traditional
medicines that local people use.
So much so that they have started using themselves.
A meeting with the local school principal also elicited support. She
has 17 micro schools to manage.

Rosalie and her children are truly incredible. I am touched that they
are choosing our Young Doctor project to respond to the horror that
her mob faces daily. I feel confident that they will capably make this
their own and drive it through.

Rosalie is hopefully getting approval from her Elders Council on
Monday. To work well the project requires local capacity. I am
delighted to say it is there.

At the little place we stayed in  there
was a tap at the back with a thick pipe
running off it. This was the water supply for about 50 people who
lived in the grass on a fifty meter radius off the back veranda. There
was no electricity, but they would sit around fires singing gospel
songs. I wonder what they were
thanking God for?

At one point Rosalie introduced me to a Senior man with the words “His
father fought for this country.”
I quickly calculated his age and assumed she meant WWII. I said to him
“World War II, like my father?” Rosalie quietly pointed at the earth
and said “No, THIS country”.

[Interesting side bar.

My “daughter” Nora Nelson Jarrah Napaltjarri discovered that the
Supreme Court, where her mural graces the foyer floor, has been
selling a range of products using her design but without consultation
or royalties! The highest court in the NT abusing the Federal laws
about Indigenous
art! She is very cross I am helping her pursue the matter…]

Don

Don Palmer’s Malpa project runs on donations, largely from
Deutschebank, a foreign concern that is very concerned with our own
people.
If you google “Malpa – Australia”, you’ll learn more about their
projects to improve child health in remote indigenous communities. It
would be a hard old stony heart that is not moved by what Malpa does.
As you read you’ll learn more about Don Palmer, a whitefella who is
doing our job outback.

The work is great and the time is short: it is not for you to complete
the work but nor are you free to stand aside from it (Babylonian
Talmud).

I don’t believe Don would be offended if any reader of this decided to
make a donation.

Howard