Story by Emmjay.
In the last few days, Christmas shopping has found us wandering the Emerald city with the inevitable collision with crowds, seemingly only slightly engaged with the retail imperative this year.
And a trip into the CBD has also the inevitable sombre tone of the massive floral tribute to the two hapless Lindt hostage victims. Earlier in the week we saw, up close the most astonishing outpouring of collective grief in living memory.
Innocent victims, granted. Selfless protectors of their friends and staff. A young mother of three with a stellar academic and legal career. Undoubtedly terribly sad.
Yesterday we saw the volunteer fire-fighters and emergency services folk lovingly collecting the floral tributes and putting them into boxes, destined it is said to be mulched and used in a permanent memorial. The organisers had thoughtfully posted many signs to the effect that bad weather is forecast and in honouring the memory of the victims, leaving the tributes to the vicissitudes of the elements was understood to be in poor taste.
It was strangely moving. But it was also troubling for me personally. I was reflecting on the fact that a bunch of flowers (of which there were literally thousands and thousands) might cost say $25 or more. So the good people of Sydney shelled out a staggering amount of money to say how sad we feel for the loss of two innocent lives. At one level this is fair enough.
At another level it’s a sad indictment of our sense of proportion as far as regrettable events go.
Anyone who has walked through our fair city of late would find the number of filthy street dwelling beggars (meaning no disrespect, but that is what they most often are) truly appalling. They are people of different ages. Men and women. Clearly down on their luck and clearly not through a recent mishap. Many seem to be almost career beggars.
Not proud, but when I walk by, I try to give as many as I can some small amount of change until my pocket cash runs out – as it inevitably does. I receive in return gratitude expressed through grimy-faced, semi-toothless smiles and heartfelt good wishes. Sometimes my walking companions remark on this – usually to the effect that they predict the recipients will rush straight off to get another drink, another cigarette, another hit – in fact any reason that my advisors can muster to justify why they themselves have not given alms. Oooh, awkward discomfort….
I usually reply “Well, yes, that man or woman might have used my cash to further their own affliction – but equally they might not”. And I ask “ Who am I to judge that – based on no knowledge of the person whatsoever ?” The act of giving is a simple thing that returns to me the small pleasure of not feeling guilty that, as a man with a house – well who owns half a house – with a job (mostly), a loving family to look after me when I’m sick, to celebrate with me when I have a win, to give away one tenth of an hour’s wages is trivial beyond belief. It’s a small price to pay for the karma of an afternoon.
And it makes it a little easier to even begin to imagine the mountain of grief of a family and friends who just lost the lives of eight children. No round the clock media circus there. No manufactured media-driven outpourings of tears from hundreds of thousands of citizens of the Emerald city. The tyranny of distance added to the tacit acceptance of the misery of the dispossed.