No longer a bystander

A couple of days ago I visited the memorial site in Bourke street set-up to commemorate the shocking events of last Friday. On the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth street outside what used to be the old GPO, and what is now H&M, there is a growing patch given over to bouquets of flowers, teddy bears, cards and other mementoes deposited there by a grieving public.

On the day I was there a film crew was taking shots of the large crowd paying their respects. They stood on the edges of the patch taking photos of it or reading sorrowful notes left by passers-by or else they just stood there, as I did, taking in the enormity of it.

It was a solemn scene. The city still bustled about us, and behind us trams rattled by in their usual way clanging as they travelled through the mall, but the crowd at the site was separate from it all. They gazed at the scene without speaking, as if at a gravesite. In the air the perfumed fragrance of flowers mixed in with the exotic scent of burning incense. It was a sobering scene, and immensely moving.

The whole experience has been momentous for Melbourne. I have felt greatly affected by it myself. I watch reports in the aftermath and my emotions bubble up every time. A picture of one of the victims, the 10 year old girl Thalia, was published early in the week. She was happy and smiling in the photo. In the normal sense you would look at it and think what a lovely little girl. Now you look at it and feel the tragedy of the loss. More than that, I felt keenly everything she was deprived of, and her family, and the world at large. It’s an unnatural and premature ending of a life that should have been lived fully and for decades to come. What would she have become but for this? What would she have seen and done? What happiness and sorrow would she have felt, and what she would have shared and given to others? None of it will be now. She had a story, but it ended too soon.

When it’s as close to home as this it always feels much more powerful. There are events like this every week, every day, somewhere in the world. On this occasion it was Melbourne’s turn. No matter where it is it’s always tragic, but the reality of it is much stronger when it is in your country, and more so your own home town.

This is my city. I know it so well. The tragedy occurred a couple of blocks from where I work. I was on foot a block away when it happened. The people caught up in this could very easily have been people I know or work with. It could have been me. You feel the utter randomness of it more keenly. It feels close, not just geographically, but spiritually. When it’s in your home town the starting point is of shared experience. The community you are a part of has been attacked. Though you look on, you are no longer a bystander. The tragedy becomes all of ours.

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