The events of the last couple of days have given me cause to ponder life and all of its complexities. If you’ve not been paying attention then you might have missed the news that there was a terrible siege on the streets of Sydney just two days ago. Following this, more than 100 young school children were brutally murdered in an attack on a school in Pakistan overnight. It is at once bewildering and heartbreaking to see human beings do such awful things to each other in the name of religion.
It can be difficult to comprehend how such terrible things can happen, but the realist in me knows that humans are capable of a great many things – from an act of profound and loving kindness, to unspeakable horror. I don’t pretend for a minute that this is a pre-determined destiny, there does always seem to be an element of choice. Sure, that choice is laden with privilege, opportunity, class and a host of other factors, but at the end of the day we must choose.
Yesterday as I rode the bus to work, consumed by the immensity of all that is happening in our country at the moment, I felt overcome with emotion. Only days before I had been sitting on the bus watching a young Muslim woman with a small toddler on her lap, she can’t have been more than 3 years old. She wriggled around in her mother’s lap, babbling away as most toddlers do. At intermittent moments, her mother gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek, ruffled her hair and whispered something in her ear.The little girl’s face lit up with a mixture of mischievousness and satisfaction.
This little girl was truly and deeply loved and it was enough to bring me close to tears. I sat and watched this interchange while thinking of the tiny babies and children that are currently locked up in detention centres, with no hope of ever escaping. Their mothers may have fled their war-torn countries – countries where innocent children are slaughtered at the hands of angry soldiers seeking retribution, where women have no rights and corrupt warlords do terrible things in the name of religion – but they arrive here to find no safe haven. Instead they are locked in detention, in conditions which have been described as ‘inhumane’ and cause untold harm to generations of young men and women. I find myself asking aloud ‘why do we do this? what are we so fearful of?’.
At that moment I was reminded of the three children left behind in Sydney after their mother’s brutal murder, and of the grief of the partners, families and friends of the victims and survivors. I can understand the fear in people’s hearts. So much conflict, fear and hate. It made my heart heavy, so heavy. In that moment I felt a sudden urge to do ‘something’ so I exited the bus and stopped past a bakery and bought a box of cookies.
I work in the same building as an organisation that helps and supports Muslim women and their families. For twelve months I have sat right next door to these women and never really said more than a polite hello as we crossed paths in the hallway. Yesterday I took those cookies and went to introduce myself, to tell them I stand with them and that I hoped they were OK and not experiencing any blowback because of what had happened. That I have been thinking a lot about their community lately and how I wished that as a nation we weren’t so divided.
I met a wonderful lady who told me, her eyes filled with tears, that she feels the same way, that she wishes this could all be over and that we could all live together in peace.
It was a profound experience, we cried together for the lives lost and then we hugged.
In that moment I felt alive. I felt in me a deep and abiding sense of humanity. It was only a small gesture but it felt immense. It occurred to me that perhaps this is how we defeat bigotry, hatred and fear. One step at a time.