this (kind) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Grace White Feather

IT was a last-minute de­ci­sion — I per­suaded my daugh­ter and nine-year-old grand­son to ac­com­pany me to see the New Year’s fire­works at Ros­alind Park in Bendigo, Vic­to­ria. The light­ing was some­what dim as we en­tered the park through the high school and I no­ticed a pe­tite young girl, aged about 18, wear­ing a very short, tight-fit­ting dress and high heels, walk­ing alone to­wards a dark, bushy area. I thought it didn’t seem a par­tic­u­larly wise idea to walk about alone in such an area, and at al­most midnight. But it was, af­ter all, New Year’s Eve.

The trees near the fire­works area were full of such lush fo­liage that ul­ti­mately we de­cided to stay near the en­trance to the high school to view the dis­play. A cou­ple of min­utes be­fore the old post of­fice clock struck midnight, I heard the soft muf­fles of a woman weep­ing in the dark. I ex­plored the bushy area nearby and there, to my sur­prise, was the young woman I had seen about 10 min­utes ear­lier, crying her heart out. She was sob­bing un­con­trol­lably; clearly she was heart­bro­ken. I sat down in front of her and asked if I could help her in any way. Through her sobs, she told me her best friend had ‘‘dumped’’ her and what­ever it was that she had said or done, he wasn’t go­ing to for­give her. The fact that her ac­tions were ap­par­ently ‘‘un­for­giv­able’’ was dev­as­tat­ing to her. Through­out our con­ver­sa­tion her phone kept ring­ing but she wouldn’t an­swer it. While I was try­ing to lis­ten to her story, the fire­works be­gan boom­ing and lit her tear-glis­tened face in hues of reds and blues. I wanted to watch them di­rectly, and not through the sparkles on her face, but I was com­pelled to fo­cus on the girl and her sad­ness.

Even­tu­ally she tried to re­as­sure me that she would be all right, but I told her she couldn’t know that. Once the fam­i­lies went home, I felt she might not be safe at all. I told her I would never for­give my­self if I read in the news­pa­per a day or so later that a young woman had been at­tacked in the park on New Year’s Eve and I had left her alone, crying in dark. She un­der­stood my moral stance and al­lowed me to an­swer her phone when it next rang. It was her brother and af­ter be­ing in­structed as to our lo­ca­tion, he ar­rived within a few min­utes. As they both thanked me for car­ing, he shook my hand with sin­cere emo­tion. I then con­tin­ued to en­joy the fes­tive park at­mos­phere with my fam­ily.

I hadn’t in­tended to tell any­one about this in­ci­dent be­cause I thought no one would be par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested. But af­ter read­ing a story in this col­umn ear­lier this year, writ­ten by a man who no­ticed an­other man crying at Syd­ney air­port and hes­i­tated to in­quire as to his well­be­ing (This Semi-Con­nected Life), I thought I might share this op­por­tu­nity I took to help a stranger. Of course, it’s eas­ier for women who are mothers and grand­moth­ers to reach out and lend emo­tional sup­port to an­other hu­man be­ing. We do it all the time. If you do it of­ten enough, ask­ing a stranger if you can help be­comes quite com­fort­able, ac­tu­ally.

I hope more men find the courage to take the op­por­tu­nity to per­form a ran­dom act of kind­ness to­wards a stranger this year. It re­ally isn’t so dif­fi­cult; af­ter all, the worst that can hap­pen is the per­son will say ‘‘No, thank you’’, and you can then smile nicely and nod. Sim­ple. Let’s not live our lives re­gret­ting all the things we should have done. There’s enough re­gret al­ready in our lives for the things we got wrong with­out adding an­other cat­e­gory of re­grets. Let’s make a res­o­lu­tion this year to be kind to strangers.

Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 600 and 650 words in length. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to thislife@theaus­

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