Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

Edi­tor’s Let­ter; Things We Love; Me­gan Ni­col Reed

Is it pos­si­ble one week might em­body a whole year? A neigh­bour­hood the en­tire world? Yes, I think that maybe it is. We have been laid bare these past 12 months. We have pri­ori­tised bor­der pro­tec­tion over hu­man suf­fer­ing, progress over en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion. De­spite cen­turies of ad­vance­ment and evolve­ment, of knowl­edge gained and les­sons learned, we have shown our­selves at heart to still be war­mon­gers and sex­ual preda­tors. We have let our­selves be di­vided, by pol­i­tics, eth­nic­ity, and in­come. And yet in among the worst of it, the very worst of us, hope flow­ers and some­times, oh some­times, our best is per­mit­ted to pre­vail. Here, then, is my week gone.

Stand­ing at the end of the queue in my lo­cal Post Of­fice, de­spair­ing at the wait, the au­to­matic doors opened be­hind me. I turned around and, in that brief win­dow on to the out­side street, I glimpsed such ug­li­ness it quite took my breath away. To one side the fa­mil­iar sight and sound of the lanky, el­derly busker who strums his gui­tar, and, mostly tune­fully, ne­go­ti­ates his way through a litany of folk­songs. On the other side a young girl, who, also a fa­mil­iar sight, sits as sadly as any­one I’ve ever seen. Even on the warm­est of days she is en­shrouded by her ny­lon sleep­ing bag and I won­der from what she hides. She prof­fers nei­ther hat nor con­tainer, but on her lap sits a hand­writ­ten sign. She is beg­ging and she ei­ther can­not or will not meet your eyes. Some­times I give her money, some­times I has­ten past be­cause I have none, and I am ashamed, ashamed that I am happy and she is not, or that in that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment on that par­tic­u­lar day, in spite of every­thing I have, I am un­happy. As I watched, a third player, a woman whose age I would put at 67ish, straw hat firmly on her head, pearl neck­lace jammed around her neck, spit­tle col­lect­ing in the cor­ners of her co­ral lip­sticked-mouth, en­tered the frame. And this woman lent down, got right up into that young girl’s face, and as clear and as cruel as a bell at first light, said: “Haven’t you heard of so­cial wel­fare?” Then she righted her­self and marched on, and I ran af­ter her. I imag­ined grab­bing her. Haven’t you heard of em­pa­thy, I would spit into her well-fed, smug face. It’s Christ­mas, where is your good­will? But just as her self-right­eous shoul­der came in reach I chick­ened out. I’m sorry, I said, go­ing back to the young girl. For how she spoke to you. And I handed her the pa­thetic amount of small change in my purse. She did not or could not look at me. Sev­eral days later, 100m down the road from that scene, I at­tended my son’s intermediate school grad­u­a­tion. Child­hood’s swan­song; such a funny life stage. Pu­berty was both ev­ery­where and nowhere to be seen. Four girls wore the same dress and one girl what ap­peared to be a wed­ding dress. Some stu­dents hugged their teacher, some scut­tled off the stage. Some par­ents yelled out. Go, boy! Kia Kaha! A mon­tage of faces: mouths full of braces, fore­heads full of zits. Some were beau­ti­ful, most were or­di­nary-look­ing. And as each re­ceived their cer­tifi­cate, no child sin­gled out over an­other at this cer­e­mony of com­ple­tion, I was struck by their sense of kin­ship. Their ac­cep­tance of each other. Later that night I was lucky to see Cat Stevens play live at Spark Arena. Oddly enough it was at intermediate school that I fell in love with his kooky lit­tle songs. He’s al­most 70 now; and he looked old up there, but his mes­sage was un­changed. Peace and love and kindness; it’s all that mat­ters. The au­di­ence was full of baby boomers, women who looked just like that woman out­side the post of­fice and I won­dered if she was out there some­where. If his words made her re­gret hers. Forty years ago this month Cat Stevens con­verted to Is­lam, a re­li­gion the Western world has come to fear. He spoke a lot about seek­ing an­swers be­fore find­ing his light. His an­swer is not mine, how­ever I un­der­stand his search. As the year draws to an end, I’m not sure I’m any wiser, in­creas­ingly, though, what I do see is that we are not so very dif­fer­ent, that we all ex­pe­ri­ence pain. It is only in the fine print that it dif­fers.

Do write. megan­ni­col­reed@gmail.com

Some­times I give her money, some­times I has­ten past be­cause I have none, and I am ashamed, ashamed that I am happy ... in spite of every­thing I have.

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