Understanding Unconditional Love

I’m searching for the key to open the love-net that shrouds my life. Strands and webs bind and cling where ever they touch.

To realise the net exists is one thing. Acknowledging its entangling cords creates a breathing space, like the drawing of a curtain, the hint of a way out, an exit from cloying confusion.

The net contains and restricts, yet doesn’t cover me completely. My horizons and the ordinary lives of those around me are seen in snatches of clarity, bounded by the regular squares, tantalising in their possibilities, yet beyond the reach of my netted life.

I made the net myself

To admit that I made the net myself is quite another thing. I wove it with love and compassion, blended with a good measure of duty. It was a practical response to the physical and emotional needs for care and support in a beautiful adult daughter with debilitating Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue (ME/CFS).

It has become an entrapment. I’m blindsided by the rigid restriction.

If I rant and struggle, the net pulls tighter. How could something that began in love become so restrictive, so unyielding, so implacable? I am frozen in shock at the extent to which I am stuck and bonded.

I am searching for the key

But I’m searching, searching for the key.

There’s a remarkable sculpture of a man draped in a marble fishing net in the bizarre and beautiful Sansevero Chapel in the historic district of Naples. Titled Disilussione, (Disilusionment) it was created in the 18th century by Francesco Queirolo for the eccentric and controversial Raimondo di Sangro.

Disillusione  18th century sculpture by Francesco Queirolo. Photo from

The work is a tribute to Sangro’s father who embarked on a life of excess following the death in childbirth of Raimondo’s mother. In later years, the father returned home and lived the simple life of a priest.

A winged angel, representing the intellect, is shown releasing the father from the meaninglessness of his profligate life (the net).

The sculpture provokes wonder and insight

The sculpture provokes wonder and insight. How did the artist sculpt the marble to create such beauty, such delicate strands, revealing tantalising glimpses of the body trapped in unyielding stone?

How can I find my way out of my beautiful yet binding love-net? Can my intellect help me break free? Do I need an angel?

Unconditonal love is the key

I searched and searched for release. I journalled. I meditated. I journalled again. Finally, I wrote: To practise unconditional love, but not get walked on and trapped in it – that’s the key!

Easier said than done, as many mothers I know report. I want to support my daughter; help her heal and recover. How do I do this in my mid-60’s with an aging body, decreasing energy and no end to the need in sight?

Finally, another revelation: I need unconditional love for self as well as my daughter and everyone else. It’s aspirational. It’s simple. It holds the boundaries that I failed to set.  It is freely given. It releases and empowers both the giver and the recipient.

I regret that I didn’t know unconditional love as a child. My parents’ love was filtered through a set of religious rules and legalistic expectations. I began to understand it with the birth of my daughters and I am still learning to embody unconditional self-love.

At least now I understand how to use it as the key to open the love-net.

Footnote: There are other marvellously beautiful and shocking works in the Sansevero Chapel. Put it on your bucket list for next time you are in Naples. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2019/02/23/capella-sansevero/

Remembering Ancestors in the time of Coronavirus

Was it prescience? I made a vision board in January and devoted a chunk of it to intentions to focus on spiritual growth, intuition and meditation. I highlighted the words: wisdom, resilience and growth.

I chose these words because I wanted to add that focus to my life. But as the ancient adage from Aesop’s Fables (circa 260 BC) says: ‘be careful what you ask for.’ Who knew that just two months after gluing those words to the poster, a pandemic would find me digging deep for my own wisdom and resilience? Whether I want to or not, I am going to grow.

I am heartbroken at what is happening in Italy. My father is the son of Italian immigrants who came to Australia in the 1920’s after WW1.

My grandmother Amelia Gandini and my grandfather Giovanni Stroppiana on their wedding day in Mackay, Queensland, Australia, December 1927.

In the last few decades, I have been increasingly drawn to my Italian roots. I connected with a distant relative while my daughter was spending year working and travelling in Italy in 2011. Last year I stayed in Faedis, the small village in Fruili-Venezia-Giulia, where my grandmother was born and lived until she came to Australia in 1927. Now I feel as if half my heart lives in Italy.

To see the heroic efforts of the Italian medical staff; to know the devastating Utilitarian choices they are making to save younger over older lives (and this in a strongly family-orientated culture); to hear the indomitable spirit of people singing from their balconies; all this moves me to tears. A queer sense of pride rises in my blue-sky, brown-land Australian heart for these people, this culture and this country that I claim as part of my heritage.

In the time of coronavirus, I draw strength and resilience from my Italian ancestors. I and my daughters are here partly because of their incredible resilience. My grandmother (Amelia Gandini) was fifteen when the last pandemic l’influenza Spagnola (Spanish Flu)came to Faedis in 1918 just over 100 years ago. She said every family in the village lost at least one person. A vigil would be held in the home with candles. Then when the bells rang in the piazza, she and her brothers and their mother would run up to the church to say Mass.

Santa Maria Assunta Church, Piazza 1 maggio, Faedis Nov 2019. When my
grandmother left in 1927, the church was still being
renovated from a smaller structure
Photograph by James Hills

No-one died in Amelia’s family but her mother (my great-grandmother) became very ill with a high fever for many days and all her hair fell out. This is the same woman who washed clothes for rich people in icy running water for a few lire to feed her family. I’ve seen that icy running water. It’s a beautiful river if you don’t have to wash clothes in it.

Canal del Grive – this is probably where my great-grandmother washed clothes to make a few lire to feed her family. Photograph by James Hills

This is the same woman who tried to take her children to safety when the area came under enemy occupation. She loaded all her children and her chickens on a cart and with her cow, she led them to a friend’s house and supposed safety. I don’t know why this did not work out but a week later she returned to find her home occupied by enemy soldiers. For the remainder of the occupation she lived upstairs with her children and the soldiers were downstairs.

We found this photograph in the WW1 Museum at Kobarid, Slovenia. It was taken during the enemy occupation of Fruili, October 1917. It shows a woman leading two cows drawing a cart with all their supplies, a child on top – exactly as described by my grandmother.

This is the woman who somehow found the means that winter (with the help of Amelia’s brothers who stole and scrounged food wherever they could) to keep her family alive (1917-1918). Amelia said that the soldiers were hungry and cold. They ate all the chickens and the pig and the family’s winter stores. They burnt all the wood stored for winter, then the family’s furniture. These were desperate times. The hardy and resilient – my ancestors – survived.

My great-grandmother Erzegovina Puppini with one of her sons. When her only daughter, my grandmother emigrated to Australia in 1927, she never saw her again.

We all have ancestors who lived through difficult times – wars, pioneering days, economic depression, undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues, chronic ill health, family tragedies, natural disasters, discrimination, racism, injustice, etc. Their blood runs through our veins. Their collective resilience and strength are in us still; their capacity to dig deep, their wisdom and way of being runs in our DNA.Let’s call on these qualities, the gifts of our ancestors to help us through these strange days.

Then we will be able to say, like our young friend in Brescia, in one of the worst affected areas of Italy:

‘We in Italy are all fighting and we won’t give up, never at all. The only thing we can do in this moment is staying at our home. This moment is a kind of opportunity to have time to stay with our families. It is a kind of moment of reconciliation.’  

Which of you ancestors inspire you with their resilience and strength? Comment below.

readilearn: Meet the author-illustrator team for Turtle Love – Renee Hills and Anna Jacobson

Thanks Norah Colvin and readilearn for this thoughtful review.

Norah Colvin

Do you love turtles? I find these magnificent creatures of the sea fascinating. Although I already owned a collection of picture books about turtles, I couldn’t resist supporting local author Renee Hills publish her first picture book Turtle Love, illustrated by Anna Jacobson, through Pozible at the end of last year. I was delighted when I received my very own copy of this beautiful picture book with its warm and empowering story that engages young children and invites them to be proactive about the welfare of other creatures.”


Turtle Love is about Jacob Gordon Lachlan Brown who lives on perhaps the most interesting and beautiful beach in the world. The flatback turtles agree. They come every summer to lay their eggs. But life is becoming more difficult for the turtles because the big ships that load coal are stirring up sediment and this affects the seagrass that…

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January: Looking Back to Thrive in 2018

January is the season of planning and resolutions. Some of us have probably already broken a few of the latter. Fortunately, we can renew them on Chinese New Year – 16th February – but perhaps we’d be better off considering Sankofa.

There are various translations and meanings attributed to the West African Akan words ‘san…ko…fa…’  and the associated bird symbol shown above,  but the one I like most is it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

The bird is usually shown with its feet firmly planted forward while its head is turned backwards, beak open to retrieve an egg from its feathers. The egg is a symbol of something precious, the wisdom from the past, necessary to move into the future. Sankofa” teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone, or been stripped of can be reclaimed, revived, preserved, and perpetuated.

Sankofa has special significance for the descendants of those taken as slaves from Senegal, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Benin to the “New World” or North America. It reminds of the need to reflect on the past in order to build a positive future.

At this time of the year, when goal setting pundits reign supreme, the past is mostly ignored. It’s all about the future, creating the best year yet, planning to get that novel/memoir/kids’ book written, illustrated, finished; multiplying income; building an author platform, etc. etc. etc.

We do need to plan. I’m a great lover of planners. In fact this year I invested in a beautiful Kiki K gold leather binder and filled it with Charmaine Clancy’s 2018 Planner for Writers pages. There’s something inviting and inspiring about the feel of leather and the quirky page design that Google Calendar simply does not deliver on my phone screen. So far I’m using the planner, unlike last year’s that languished on my desk under piles of paper for months at a time.

Yes, I am planning. I’m facing forward into 2018, but I am turning again to bring with me the precious truths from the past; the strengths, the achievements, lessons learned, the happy moment memories. I think sometimes we need to be reminded to go back and collect those things we have forgotten, or lost or had taken from us.

Last year,  one of the things I lost was my own perspective on events and personal history. I know why that happened – that’s a story for another post. Let’s just say, I became very enmeshed in loved one’s version of events until I was confronted with such an unbelievable, manufactured memory (at least from my perspective) that it shocked me back into my own reality.

I realised then that to shut out the past, or to travel onwards acknowledging only the pain, and ignoring the power of the past is to live a strange, half-truth reality cobbled together with determined forward planning. It’s a distorted, uneven landscape that buckled and heaved beneath my feet. It’s like the reassembled shards of a shattered mirror that presented a crazy disconnected reflection of the story or event.

In the end, it’s all personal perception, but for now, I’m seeking out those eggs of wisdom from the past as I make my plans for the future.

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you think about this idea.

Photo credit: Spencer Means on Visualhunt / CC BY-SA