This story is dedicated to Tony Dotta, who passed away on 20th April 2018, after a battle with leukaemia. He was human being who was larger than life and will be deeply missed. He will live on to all that knew him through the stories we all share of him.
Biodiversity: The rich story or biography of a persons life. It reads much more deeper than an entry in a history book or an obituary. It includes the diversity of stories that make up the person’s life seen from different people’s perspectives from the inspirational, to the entertaining and absurd. It contains the truths, half-truths and stories that in the person’s death brings the person and their life, back to life. The speaking and the listening of these stories creates deeper energy and meaning as time goes by.
I decided today to go for an early morning walk in the cool forest clad mountains of Binna Burra. Lately I have been needing more and more ‘quiet’ time. Tony Dotta’s death hadn’t really affected me so I thought when I first found out about his passing, which I found disturbing.
When Colin, a close friend rang me up on the Saturday morning (Tony died on the Friday night) I heard him tell me that he had passed away but it didn’t register. I didn’t ‘feel’ it, or register what it meant.
Tony, was unstoppable, his attitude in the final weeks fighting leukaemia was so positive that death wasn’t an option. To hear that he was dead didn’t hit me, as to me it was so implausible even if the doctors said that he should have been dead 3 months ago when he was diagnosed. I had remarked on a few occasions towards the end to Tony that if someone was going to beat cancer, it would be Tony, as he always had a way to surprise us.
A week later, Colin and I attended his funeral. We wore colourful tie dye shirts in honour of this colourful character. Everyone else was dressed appropriately for a funeral, but we wanted to remember Tony as we knew him.
At the chapel, his daughter and ex-wife spoke about what a great man he was. That he was a loving father and generous soul. There wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel. Feeling the sadness and grief of others in this space, I found it hard to hold back tears. I felt I had to disassociate with the energy in the room to ‘keep it together’.
At this ceremony is when I actually ‘felt’ that he had died…
The wake that followed made me realise that Tony hadn’t really died. His body container may have given up, yet he was still with us in spirit. Where the funeral was a sad affair as we grieved his physical departure, the wake was a celebration of his life.
It was a reawakening in my mind of the power of stories and how they can endure beyond death. The wake was an outdoor affair, with food and alcohol, as we stood around remembering fondly and with affection the good times and many stories that was Tony.
The Lazarus Effect
Stories have a similar way a bringing people back from the dead.
For those who don’t know the Bible, Jesus is recorded in the Gospel of John to have raised Lazarus from the dead after 4 days. In the narrative, Jesus arrives at the tomb and instructs that the stone be rolled away from the entrance. He says a prayer and calls out to Lazarus to come out. Lazarus walks out in his grave-cloths.
Stories are prayers that their sharing with others bring the deceased back to life. In those moments, time as we know ceases to exist as we relive past moments as if they were happening now.
The Power of Stories
Stories can have this affect. They can bring people back to life. They can affect our emotions. They can inspire us. Instruct us. Help us. Surprise us. Move us. Give us wisdom. Stories are incredibly powerful.
Those that have died can live on through stories. Stories are what makes us immortal. Stories speak to us beyond the grave.
Walk of Honour
This morning I felt I needed a little more ‘quiet time’ than usual…and maybe I have started to grieve. This morning’s walk was to honour Tony Dotta. This man who was built like the proverbial ‘brick shithouse’ which fitted his larger than life persona. He lived life by the seat of his pants and his big persona was matched by his profession of moving houses.
Tony was a man that lived a ‘full’ life. He was incredibly positive and his energy for those who were near him was contagious. Right to the very end he was positive that he would overcome cancer. He was planning to the end his next big trip with Colin and the mischief he was going to get up to.
Tony’s dreams were never modest. If he had one life to live, well he wasn’t going to do things by halves. I remember when I received a phone call once from Colin and he was chuckling to me that Tony on the spur of the moment he had just bought a massive mango farm in Townsville when he knew nothing about mangoes and running a farm.
That was Tony. Spontaneous. You never knew what he would be up to next. But by God you knew he never just talked, it would always be followed by action!
Stories are journeys.
With every step as I walked in silence through the bush I was able to relive the stories that our friendship had created. Like the time when Tony, Colin and I were in the centre of Gympie. We had bought sombreros and walked down the Main Street of town. As we walked down the hill, locals would cross the street to get away from these strange fellows parading through their high street. From that moment on we were the Three Amigos.
The greatest thing that I and know doubt all that knew Tony knew him for was his stories. Tony could spin a good yarn. Yet, where truth finished and fiction began was always a grey area. The reason was that if anyone was to do anything out of the ordinary, it would be Tony. He had his own version of the truth, and could ‘fashion’ the ‘facts’ that made everything plausible.
The first time I met Tony was at a weekend festival on the Sunshine Coast, called The Joining. He had arrived late and I was in the hall meeting people for the first time. Then there walks in this tall hairy man wearing a worker’s blue singlet, stubbies and a pair of thongs and sporting a big gut and skinny legs. My first impression was that a maintenance man had arrived. Within moments he began to talk and we all knew we were in for an entertaining weekend.
Tony had no fashion sense. What you see is what you got. Yet he could fashion the truth like nobody.
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
What is truth? Well, everyone’s truth is different. Therefore, maybe there is no universal truth. We all see things differently, and even ‘facts’, may be different for different folks.
Many facts are simply ‘truths’. They can be different based on who is doing the telling. If you think about it, we get the word ‘facture’ from facts. Facture or to manufacture is to create or fashion. Fact comes from the Latin ‘factum’ – something done.
Fact and fiction with Tony was often blurred, often because his stories contained fact that was embellished for effect. I never did tire from hearing his stories.
Tony was definitely a fashionista – fashioning the truth as he saw it. The word fiction comes from Latin fictio – ‘a fashioning’.
Tony was inspirational. He lived life on his terms…
When he was younger and lived in Griffith, country NSW, he had been elected as head of the Rotary Club in Griffith. He once had a chat with the senior regional director of Rotary Club who talked to him about the importance of first impressions. This senior had lectured Tony on the importance of first impressions, as Tony would chair his local Rotary Club meetings in his signature blue singlet, stubbies and thongs.
In true Tony fashion, he did take on the senior’s sage advice. At the regional meeting he met heads of other Rotary Club groups dressed in a tie…and his blue singlet, stubbies and thongs!
Tony did make a great first impression. His truth didn’t always match the norm.
Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
Tony was always so much larger than life that often truth was stranger than fiction. One of my favourite stories that he told me a few weeks before his death as Tony, Colin and I sat down eating Indian food was about moving a restaurant.
Tony was sitting in a restaurant a few years ago in Noosa. He got chatting with the restaurant owner (Tony could and would talk to anyone and everyone that would listen). The restaurant owner told Tony all his woes and how he wanted to close down. Tony asked him if he had contemplated selling his restaurant. The restaurant owner had, and Tony offered to buy it on the spot, and the restaraunteur accepted. Tony transferred the funds, and to the restaurant owner’s incredible surprise Tony came the next morning with his house moving truck and proceeded to shift the restaurant. This was typical Tony – he was a doer and an impulsive one at that!
Another funny story was when Tony went on a cruise. Tony knew how to party, to a point that his trip overseas ended up with him in the national newspapers with a photo of him sliding topless female holidaymakers down a slippery bar top in a club! The head entertainment officer would later comment to Tony that with Tony on board it was the best cruise that he could ever remember. Tony had a way of getting everyone involved and having a great time.
Along my walk this morning I passed incredibly beautiful and diverse landscapes. I walked through dense rainforests filled with strangler figs and each branch of towering giants dripping with mosses, ferns and other epipytes. Different levels from the canopy to the forest floor supported varied forms of life. Where a forest giant had crashed to the ground there were young saplings racing towards the light, and where the skeletons laid on the forest floor there were all kinds of fungi living on them.
Stories, just like forests have storeys. They have levels. These different levels contain different layers of details that nourish and enrich the story. Within these storeys there are facts and fiction. Both help to enrich the story.
It is the details that help to bring a story to life.
Along the walk this morning, after about an hour I emerged from the dark forest and into the open air. I walked along the ridge line that was clothed in fire blackened skeletons and fresh green growth. I peered down into the valley forested below and in the distance clouds loomed over the Springbrook plateau.
As I stood there taking in this awe inspiring vista, I turned to walk again and to my left was an embankment covered in red. To the average person they may have missed this or thought that it was just a type of moss or flowering plant if they happended to notice at all.
I looked a little closer and I was surprised to discover that this whole embankment was the ideal habitat for tiny carnivorous sundew plants. Sundew plants live in conditions of low nitrogen and nutrients and get their added nutrition from insects. Insects land on their sticky leaves that have sticky globules that look like dew. Unable to escape, the leaf curls around the insect and the sundew digests it. These insectivorous plants no doubt has inspired many b-grade sci-fi films such as Day of the Triffids, melding fact and fiction for a good story.
Details like this. Facts about what I see around me enrich this experience of walking through the environment. It creates a deeper sense of appreciation. Discovering details and finding out facts can make stories come to life.
Stories Are Journeys
I have always loved traveling. One of the biggest reasons is that I am fascinated by people. Often the things I see on the way are inconsequential compared to the stories I pick up from people along the way. I am fascinated by the stories of people’s lives. Stories can inspire us, entertain us, instruct us, teach us, astound and surprise us.
Chatting with people who have lived a long life or one that is different to our own can help us learn about life and how to avoid some of the pitfalls. These stories can also inspire us and help us along our journeys. Stories can be guidestones helping us find our way forward.
Stories take us on journeys that can fill us with wonder. They also connect us. They can help to create common bridges between us and others.
In fact, stories can help create communities. Stories connect us. Stories grow us, cultivate us. Stories ‘ enculturate’ us. Cultures around the world have creation stories that fuse together fact and fiction, bringing people closer together.
Ancient epics such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, the Mabharhatta, and the Aeneid, help us understand the journey of life and the challenges one may face.
Traditional and indigenous cultures have initiation ceremonies that contain stories, myths and legends, that have instructions on how to live a life within the society’s expectations. Initiations are instructional and transformational.
Some Australian indigenous cultures are able to travel long distances across blistering deserts and inhospitable landscapes following the lines of story. They are able to sing their way over rugged ranges, to precious hidden water holes by reciting words from the myths of the creation of their land.
As I hiked through the mountain forests and heathlands, along ridges, valleys, and stood on a rocky outcrop and inside a cave, it came alive from the macro level, the landforms, down to the micro level, the details, the sundews, the flowers, the insects. Each step was filled with facts and stories from the micro to the macro.
Stories, help us to answer universal questions about life. Whether they be through epic stories to song lines that describe the formation of the land, myths and legends, they give us clues and answers on how to live our lives.
Questions are like stories, journeys.
The moment we ask a question and commit to finding an answer, we are starting a journey. The journey may be to discover the ‘truth’, to find out the ‘facts’, and sometimes just for the thrill of it.
I am super curious. I will Come across something and will have to look on the internet and have to know everything I can possibly know about that thing.
A question can set you on a quest. Just like the heroes of the ancient epics, along the way we may be challenged and we also may be rewarded for our persistence and courage.
As a child I was fascinated by famous explorers. There was Captain James Cook, Christopher Columbus, and Dr David Livingstone amongst others. They were heading into the unknown on voyages of discovery, and on these voyages of discovery they would learn things about themselves too.
Mysteries can often set the curious on a path of discovery. Whether it be an explorer who wanted to find what existed beyond the limits of the known world and whether they would fall off the edge into the abyss to a scientists who wanted to challenge the commonly believed ‘fact’ at the time that the Earth was flat.
Mysteries are stories that are hidden in the mist of myth, legend, superstition and conjecture. They are magnets to the mind traveler. Their quests creates a new story – their/my story – a ‘mystory’.
As I sit here penning these words, contemplating the power of stories and the death of my friend, I think about a beautiful encounter on my walk today.
Silence can be deadly to stories. Yet silence can bring life to memories. Silence gives the space for memories. Memories are stories that are ‘re-membered’. That is, facts, feelings and perceptions that were dismembered by the passage of time, are put back together or ‘remembered’.
This remembering can often embellish the story, as ‘facts’ change and things are put together differently to how they may have actually occurred. This remembering can add another dimension to the ‘truth’. In fact, the unreliability of memories can often be the beginnings of myths and legends.
The encounter that I had towards the end of my bushwalk came about as I decided to stop for a moment. I could hear my mind chattering away and I wanted to quieten the raucous goings on inside. I stopped, put my hand against a tree, closed my eyes, took in a deep breathe and stood still.
When I opened up my eyes I could feel greater presence. I took a couple of steps and in front of me stood a lyre bird rummaging in the leaf litter. As I motioned towards this mysterious creature it silently disappeared into the shadows of the forest. I took another few steps forward and in front of me stood another magnificent lyre bird.
Lies & Fiction
Seeing these birds I thought about their incredible talent to mimic other birds, and even axes striking tree trunks a hundred years or so ago and chain saws cutting down trees. Their sounds can be passed on from generation to generation, and in doing so they help connect us to stories of the past.
Lyrebirds, just like humans and their stories, help to connect us. Their mimicry are so convincing and yet we realise that they are not created by the true originator of these sounds. They blur the line between fact and fiction. They fashion sounds to sound like the ‘real’ thing.
As I pass through life I realise that the lines between fact and fiction begin to blur. There is less black and white and much more grey. Lies may be defined as false statements made with deliberate intent to deceive. Even this definition seems very grey, as stories can also deceive, whether intentional or not.
An embellished story may add to the power of the story. It may help to bring the learning across.
Some stories can also hinder us from having a fulfilled life. Limiting self-beliefs and stories of past experiences can hold us back from living vibrant and deeply rich lives.
As I walked in silence through the landscape this morning honouring a friend who lived life fully, I had many epiphanies.
I learned that stories are incredibly powerful. That we have the power through the stories we tell ourselves to live lives of great joy or deep misery.
I understood that life is a journey, and each day we are journeying towards death. Stories are our hearse.They are vehicles that carry us through life to the inevitable. We have the choice to die while we are alive or to choose to live richly and deeply and allow the relationships and connections we make and the subsequent stories that follow help us cheat death.
I learned that every story is a journey unto itself. Listening to other people’s stories can help us along our own journey. Every story can take us on a journey of learning and discovery.
I learned just how the moisture, mist, rain or dew can intensify the scents of the forest so too can stories ‘inscentify’ life. It can fill each moment with great heavenly fragrance.
I learned that life isn’t so black and white. It is filled with lots of grey, especially the older and hopefully wiser I get. Yet stories can also add colour and brilliant rainbows of joy.
I also learned that tall stories can become tall facts as time moves on. These need not be ‘lies’, but embellishments of the ‘truth’ that can help us live richer deeper lives.
Finally, I understood the power of the spoken word, of stories communicated through voice. I felt the finality of never speaking to Tony again when I see his mobile number still in my smart phone. This thought and I realised he was no longer with us in body.
As I stood in silence in awe of the lyrebirds I thought of Tony. I thought about the colourful life he led. I thought about the many stories he left behind to all those present at the wake. I saw the joy and smiles on friend’s and family’s faces as we remembered the stories.
As I stood their in the silence of the forest I really understood the power of stories and how they can transcend death.
Just a few questions for you to contemplate and start your quest for a richer life:
What legacy will you leave after your death?
What stories will others remember you by?
What will your spirit hear others say about you?
What stories are holding you back from living a richer and more fulfilling life?
Stories have power not only when they are written but spoken. Hearing a story can be very powerful. As time goes by, just like ‘Chinese whispers’, stories can get altered and embellished and take on new life. What legendary stories will you be remembered for? Sometimes the most legendary stories are for the humblest deeds…
When you die, will you be remembered by those you love by your incredible achievements and the long hours of dedication you put at work?
Or will they remember you for how you made them felt, the great times you spent together, the stories that you were part of?
Biographies are wonderful. Yet nothing beats a life filled with rich stories and experiences. Just like a forest, it is the many storeys or layers, the macro and the micro that creates a rich diversity we call a full life.
Tony left us richer for having been in our lives. He has brought me many insights as well as great memories and learnings on how to live life.
In a twist of irony, Tony was the most honest and authentic person I have ever known. He had a heart that matched his stature. Everything he did was with intensity and passion.
To me the power of stories was symbolised at the funeral service as Colin laid a sombrero on Tony’s casket. Tony was our fashion guru – he could fashion the truth and blur the lines. Even in death, his memory will live on, as he blurs the lines between the living and the dead.
Through his life and the stories we will remember Tony. Through these stories he has transcended death.