John carves out new life and gives gratitude for what he has
FOR John Burgess, chronic illness and divorce led to isolation and depression.
But you would not know it today because he has rediscovered a community and a purpose in life.
"Friends are hard to keep in that situation," John said.
The softly spoken 66-year-old former civil and mechanical engineer admits he was lost before a psychologist suggested attending Nerang's Liberty Community Connect to meet new people.
He wasn't convinced, but decided to give it a go.
"I really didn't think it was my sort of thing even after the first visit, but it grows on you," John said.
The Friday group at which he has become a regular over the past three years, was "a unique experience", he said.
Attendees range in age from about 28 to 98, and are picked up from their homes by bus for a weekly outing, taking them anywhere from Kingscliff to Coomera.
John's illness, which has numerous debilitating symptoms including heart problems and numbness in his hands, is the result of an extreme allergic reaction to being exposed to organophosphates in 2006. He said for the first two years he was barely able to get out of bed, and since then it has meant long stints in hospital.
So he found being able to help others quite a turnaround. When a group day trip took them on a whale cruise, John was reminded of a wood carving he had done many years ago of a whale and its pup. Seeing the mass-produced plastic souvenirs sold after the cruise, John thought he could do better ... and he has.
Hand-drawing the designs and using thin jewellery-grade blades, he creates pieces that fit into each other like a two-piece jigsaw.
Starting with whales, he has since branched out to koalas, kangaroos, elephants and frogs, as well as creating pine name blocks for each staff member at Liberty Community Connect as a personal thank you.
"They are something special because each one is something unique in the world, and it's a memory that will live on," he said.
He said the secret to his new positive outlook was "to simplify life".
You can contact Liberty Community Connect on 0755781668 or go to libertycommunity.org.au.