Come sit down beside me, I said to myself.
And although it doesn’t make sense,
I held my own hand as a small sign of trust
And together I sat on the fence.
– Michael Leunig
I first came across this poem in College, studying Children’s Literature. It made an immediate impact because of its simplicity of style and message: the outcome of being one with oneself, comforting oneself, while alone.
I’ve travelled many places, geographically, psychologically and philosophically, and on my journeys I’ve travelled separately even when I’ve been with others. It’s inevitable that every individual brings their own unique life experiences and understandings to their present. So although two people can follow the same itinerary, creating shared memories, their individual journeys will nevertheless be just that- individual.
It’s important to be able to comfort yourself, because if you can’t no-one else will be able to. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to achieve, especially on a consistent basis. The wisdom that comes with ageing usually helps. As a neighbour said once when I commented that she was sitting by herself at our children’s swimming sports, “Show me a woman over thirty who’s not happy with her own company”. Being in my thirties at the time I found that pretty accurate.
A discreet way to provide comfort, I find, is to hold one hand with the other… and that brings the poem to mind. In times of high stress I can hold my hand under the table, thereby building human connection through sitting together with myself and consequently calming my heart rate and my mind.. and those around me are none the wiser!
Michael Leunig’s quirky, philosophical and touching work provided me much comfort in my rocky adolescence (along with seemingly 99% or more of the population of Australia- in fact, I have yet to meet anyone who isn’t moved by Leunig). Still creating new works thirty years later, he is now an Aussie icon whose instantly-recognisable style has graced products as diverse as Melbourne trams, wrapping paper and giftware such as coffee mugs and coasters.
Thirty years after College- and one full cycle of Saturn later- I still take comfort in the poetry I was given in a class, and it makes as much sense now as it did then. That’s a measure of meaningful art.
It’s also indicative of experience building in a spiral, being grounded in core-deep fundamental truths while simultaneously reaching out fresh tendrils into new understandings. Well that’s the way it seems to happen with me, anyway.
In your travails I trust that you can find people to share your life with you, in the times that you’re not sitting with yourself. And I trust that you are able to comfort yourself now and into the future… because you are the only one who goes with you absolutely everywhere.
For more on Michael Leunig (and if you’re not already a follower) go to https://www.leunig.com.au/