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Invisible People

We were in the city, at a cafe before a show. It was a cool evening but, warm enough in our coats, we were sitting at an outside table sipping our coffees and chatting. Vaguely aware of all the others at tables around us simlarly engaged in their lattes and conversations.

Hands Holding CoffeeSuddenly behind me, there was a bit of a disturbance. I turned to see an elderly man in a shabby coat being hustled back to the street by a waiter. Apparently he’d been begging at nearby tables.

As he vanished into the night, I glanced around and saw folk simply going back to their coffees and conversations as before. Nobody seemed concerned. Nobody else turned to watch him leave. He’d been hurried off like an embarrassment. None of us had talked to him or found out his story. Nothing.

It was as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’t existed – as if he were invisible. And I wondered … did anyone else feel sad?

A couple of weeks later, we were again in the city for another show. Three of us were drinking coffee at an outside table at the same cafe.

This time a woman approached our table and asked for money. Very thin. Unkempt hair falling over her face. I don’t know how old she was, but she sounded tired.

I looked up at her and said “Would you like something to eat? To drink?”

She said she’d like a cappucino, so I rose and went indoors to get one. When I returned and handed her cup, sugars, spoon and paper serviette, our hands touched briefly. Hers shook a little.

“Thank you. Bless you!”, she said. And was gone.

What? Bless me? But I’d done nothing. I’d not learned her story. I’d not asked her … anything! I’d not helped her. All I’d done was buy her a coffee. It was nothing.

And yet … perhaps at least she’d been visible. And maybe that’s something.

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Apeldoorn and Other Tragedies

Tonight I’ve been following the breaking news on Twitter about the tragedy that happened at Apeldoorn in Holland. A crazed motorist, apparently intending to crash into the royal coach, ploughed through the crowed at high speed, killing 4 people and severely injuring 17 others. According to the reports the attack on the Dutch royal family was intentional.

Among the posts of heartfelt sympathy for all those affected by the tragedy have been other posts of anger and outrage expressed against the perpetrator.

It reminded me of the aftermath of the bushfires here in Victoria in February, when it was found that some of the fires that killed hundreds and left thousands homeless were actually deliberately lit. Then too, anger and outrage were heaped on the arsonists – some folk saying they should be put to death, or even be burned alive.

And another memory – this time of the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania back in 1996, when Martin Bryant went on a shooting rampage that left 35 people dead and 21 others wounded. Bryant finally pleaded guilty and is serving 35 life sentences with no possibility of parole. Again, Bryant was vilified by many, who argued that he should be shot himself.

Along with heartfelt sympathy for the victims, the rest of us feel horror that such events can occur. And bewilderment that anyone could perpetrate such crimes against their fellow human beings – all of whom were innocent bystanders and had played no part in any original cause or motivation for the crime.

Horror, bewilderment – and anger against the perpetrators – are natural responses to such stories.

Tonight my heart is very much with all those in Apeldoorn and elsewhere who have been affected by the Queens Day horror. As it was with those so devastatingly affected by the Victoria fires or with the people who lost their loved ones at Port Arthur – two tragedies that have reverberated so powerfully in our Australian national psyche.

But each time I’ve found myself wondering ….

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