When Everyone Is Afraid

 So after having my phone etc. stolen, I had to go through the process of getting a new passport. On asking at the Australian consulate they said ‘Go to this site and download and fill in Form B8’. So the form won’t let you down load it. I am not sure how to get it to the consulate if it is a completely ‘on line’ process, so I ring up (no answer). I ring up on the next day, and they say ‘You have to fill it in first on line, then you can download the rest of the form, print it off, and bring it with you to the interview’. OK.

 

Looking at the form is so daunting. Everywhere there are warnings ‘The Photo must be correct. If you don’t have a suitable photo we will reject it and then there will be delays!!’ ‘Making false statements is punishable by large fines’ ‘Passports are valuable documents, you shouldn’t lose them.’ ‘A passport is valuable, on top of the SFr. 200.00 to replace your passport you will be charged Sfr. 89.00 extra because you have lost or had your passport stolen.’ On it goes. I am petrified. On the front of the download is a list of the things you have to bring. ‘”Have you got the updated list?” I’m asked on the ‘phone. I read out the list and the voice on the other end says ‘Yes, that’s the one.’ I go through it about ten times to make sure everything is ok. I’m worried about the photos. When I ring up, I say ‘I have paid SFr. 50.00 for a police report, do I need that?’ ‘No’, they say, ‘Just report the passport stolen on line.’ I decide to put it in anyway. The front of the form says ‘You must bring all original documents and photocopies’. I make copies. I drive the hour and a quarter to Geneva. Thanking god for the GPS to help me find my way (despite the interminable road works that happen everywhere in Switzerland in summer).

 

So I arrive in Geneva to a heavily fortified Australian Consulate. It’s like going on a plane. There is no obvious instruction as to how to get in, so I press a button. It rings and a guy comes and says ‘I’m not the New Zealand Consulate, I’m the Australian.’ ‘That’s what I want’ I say. So with a chiding for ringing the wrong bell I am ushered in.

 

So I speak to a friendly person whom I spoke to on the telephone. Under the bullet proof glass petition I hand my copies and originals. ‘Why have you got copies?’ She says. I point to the sentence at the bottom of the form. ‘Oh.’ Then comes the big ‘Check off’. ‘Birth certificate…yes’ Driver’s licence …yes.’ Finally she gets to ‘Have you got your ‘Proof of residential address?’ ‘It’s not on the list’ I say. ‘Well we need a bank statement or Gas bill or something like that to prove where you live.’ ‘It’s not on the list’ I say. ‘Ah, well, I can use the address on this police report’ She says. All is complete, I go away and at the need of the street have tears of relief.   I am reminded of the Office de la Population in Lausanne. Every time I have to go there I am so anxious. The room is bare and full of suppliants who have ‘taken a number’.

 

So this is a ‘reflection’, not just an account. I wonder why I am so scared. I think I am getting more scared as I get older. I remember being, as they say ‘an anxious little boy.’, but full of bravado. I learned a poem in grade one for the prep school concert. I was so proud of it before the class, and then clung tight to mum when it came time actually to say the poem. The image of the kind teachers fur wrap in my face, encouraging me to go up is still vivid. As I grew up, I learned to supress this fear, and become a ‘performer’. I suppose I learned to despise or suppress this scared child that lives in me for the sake of achievement.

 

He came back again at the time of the Vietnam War. There was conscription. I was so scared. I did not want to go, but I could not think of a reason to be, as an adult, ‘opposed’ to the war, although I made up reasons. It was just that being so sensitive, I knew I would be seriously damaged by the experience of the army and the war. Many others, who did go, are now in deep trouble because of it.

 

So now I am in a foreign land and getting older. I think that getting older means that the ‘me’ that was repressed for the sake of ‘achievement’ is now having a run again. At some level, I think the logic in me went ‘If I could be ‘important’ enough, then no one would suddenly frighten me and I would not have to experience that sudden rush of adrenaline that comes with it.’ That is natural enough I guess. But now, as ‘achievement’ is not so important, then the sensitive person can come out again somewhat. I think this is what I am feeling as I approach bureaucracy. Like going through the machine at the airport, all I want to know is how not to make it go ‘BING!!!’ and then have the sullen security personnel handle me all over like some puppy that they are trying to socialise into submission.

 

My own ‘sensitive self’ is what is touched in these situations, where one feels as though one has no ‘rights’ and the stopping of the machine from going ‘BING’ is impossible (especially as they have now told me that it also goes off at random!’.)

 

But this anxious frightened me is a truer picture than that of the boisterous, defensive me or the one who has learned to cover the anxiety with bluster.

But I wonder too what is going on in the minds of the people who design the Australian consulate or the ‘waiting room’ of the office de la Population. The design of the buildings expresses their fear of who might come in. I was surprised that I was not at least invited into an ‘interview room’ for the ‘passport interview’. The Office de la Population is full of fearful people, including the office staff, who design their buildings against the clients who come.

 

But come to think of it, this is what the Church in Australia has done. Every main building is now protected by two sets of security doors. The offices of the whole cathedral staff are protected once, and the bishops twice!

 

There is something not right about this. Like the king in ‘The king and I’ says ‘Is a danger to be trusting one another, one should seldom want to do what other wishes, but unless some day somebody trust somebody, there’ll be nothing left on earth excepting fishes!’ At some point the cycle of ever increasing security has to stop. Maybe the people in the Office de la Population and the Consulates are also as afraid in the world as I am. Their ‘bluster’ is not in the form of personal huffing and puffing, but in the form of bricks and mortar and glass. At some point there has to be a ‘de-escalation’ of the situation so that there can be less ‘general fear’ and more ‘general trust’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell isnow a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
This entry was posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections at St. John's Montreux. Bookmark the permalink.

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