This is still our Sydney

Flowers in Martin Place at 9.30am on Tuesday.
Flowers in Martin Place at 9.30am on Tuesday.

It’s Monday morning and I’m running late. Walking late. It’s twenty minutes to ten when I turn left from Phillip St into Martin Place.

I don’t look at the Lindt cafe as I pass. My eyes are focused on the Channel Seven news ticker. I can’t remember now what it says but I’m sure Michael Clarke’s hamstring features somewhere.

I love Martin Place, its wide indulgent promenade and its buildings that speak of other times. I always take a moment to breathe it in.

Man Haron Monis is only minutes away. This morbid chapter is already unfolding. By the time I settle at my desk, he has entered the Lindt cafe. The lives of seventeen people going about the mundane business of ordering and serving coffee are now forever changed.

Before long, a large TV screen in our office is showing static footage of a shopfront. This in itself stands out in these days when nothing is still. There is a headline about hostages. This is not real.

I ring my mum. If she has seen the footage, she’ll be worried. She’s not at home. I call my sister-in-law. It’s her birthday but I know better than to contact her before 10am.

My mum and brother are with her. I tell them what’s happening and they turn on their TV. Other families, contacted in similar fashion, do the same. Monis’ influence now ripples beyond the Lindt cafe, beyond Martin Place, into the suburbs, across the country and beyond.

I listen to myself speak to my family. My matter-of-fact tone is at odds with the situation and the concern I hear in their voices. Don’t worry, I tell them. I’m safe. We’re in lockdown. No one can get in. I might as well be discussing the weather.

Besides, this thing that’s happening across the road, which I can see from the window if I walk a few metres, is not real. It’s just something on TV.

My colleagues and I continue working, normalising an abnormal situation. We were warned this day would come. Three months ago, it went from a possibility to a likelihood. And now it’s here.

Flowers at midday
Midday: The floral tribute grows.

After a couple of hours, we’re told to leave the office. I don’t want to go outside. We’ve seen reports this may not be an isolated situation. We’re given the choice to work from another city location or from home. It’s a no brainer.

We exit on to Castlereagh St. The city is a stranger. There are sticky-beaks along the police cordon. Go home, I want to say. We are not part of this story.

Pitt St Mall is eerily quiet, especially for December. Half the stores are closed. In the other half a smattering of people go about their Christmas shopping, both scenes surreal.

My family has urged me to go home. Yet I duck into David Jones to buy a Christmas card — and think how stupid I’ll feel if something happens.

I keep walking, past the city, through Hyde Park. Darlinghurst, for the first time ever, feels blessedly suburban.

It is only when I get home that I begin to entertain the what ifs. The random precision of people, time and place sinks in. Our thoughts are with seventeen people. But it could have been any of us.

Twitter is full of speculation, inaccuracies and religious slurs. But then a woman on public transport notices a fellow traveller removing her hijab and encourages her to put it back on. The hashtag #illridewithyou is born. We see our best and worst selves on social media this afternoon.

Walking to school to pick up my daughter, I get teary. Today I don’t take for granted my ability to perform this simple parental duty. I hold her tight. We had arguments this morning, several, all irrelevant now.

She holds me too, for the school had almost been placed in lockdown and the kids, in preparation, were told what was going on.

2.30pm: A second floral tribute starts near the Lindt cafe.
2.30pm: A second floral tribute starts near the Lindt cafe.

I want to continue as normal but normal right now is beyond me. I can’t fathom my reaction. A friend cooks us dinner. They lived through London. They understand my catatonia. We have wine and watch TV. Hostages flee the cafe, their faces etched with terror. Our kids worry the gunman will escape.

A bewildered city goes to bed and wakes to the awful news that two brave souls have died, one apparently trying to disarm the gunman and the other, a mother, seeking to protect a pregnant friend.

The gunman too is dead. He has a name now. I don’t want to memorise it, to have it roll easily from my tongue. My nine-year-old, bless her, can find some compassion for him. She has a bigger heart than I do this morning.

I go to work, determined to reclaim my city. It is gouged with blue and white police tape. The sky is suitably overcast. An impromptu shrine of flowers builds outside our office window, a reference point for a city’s grief and solidarity.

In my first meeting of the day, I have a rant about a work deadline. I’m coping with events beyond my comprehension and control by focusing on trivia. We are brittle today. Numb. We feel sick in the stomach. And we can’t understand why we’re all so knackered.

Seventeen people suffered the brunt of this attack, their families too. Yet we are all affected, no matter how far removed. This is what’s becoming apparent twenty-four hours on.

And now it’s Wednesday. The world’s focus turns to Pakistan, where the Taliban has slaughtered 132 school children. It’s a brutal reminder that there are people hell-bent, in the true sense of the word, on destroying the pillars of our civil society.

Our city is scarred, there is no doubt. But we have a choice how we respond. We can turn on each other as Monis did. Or we can embrace the legacy of Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson whose final acts and thoughts, it would appear, were for others.

This is still our Sydney.

104 Comments Add yours

  1. tinakmeyer says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I greatly appreciate this post. It’s been a bit of a violent week since the Lindt Cafe tragedy. As you mentioned the Taliban school killings and now the killing of 2 NYC cops. This time of the year tugs at our hearts more so with the Xmas/New Year holidays being a time of celebration and love. We as humans are incredible living beings, but with infinite differing perspectives on the way things should be. The “global family” is dysfunctional and we have to understand and speak up when something isn’t right to many of us. Change is happening but unfortunately it is directionless which is causing chaos and frustration. Believe me I am keeping optimistic but also the reality of what’s happening is very much there. We need more solace on this planet, but there are many who think otherwise.

    Thank you for letting me share a few of my thoughts.. blessings on this Winter Solstice Day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. kazblah says:

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Like

  3. What an emotional read! Beautiful words. We are in london and very removed from the situation in Australia. Thank you for your words.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. dawneelisabeth says:

    Reblogged this on Dawne Elisabeth.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. dawneelisabeth says:

    Amazing piece. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Sydney. Cant imange what they are going through.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It is a nice piece of work
    Had it been on tv i would hav switched d channel.. But this comin from the horse’s mouth kept me glued till d end.. D incident has aggrieved u but more imp is you put ur soul into writting it..!
    Keep up d good work

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Both the Sydney and Pakistani event are tragic, yet the imbalance in reporting by media is disrespectful to the lives of so many in Pakistan. As stories emerge about the siege, and the police’s role, we face yet another inhumane act in Cairns. The murder of 8 children by their own Mother. Also reports of certain people abusing the Ill ridewithyou campaign. What is happening in our safe, laid back country? This is still our Sydney, this is still our Australia.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. JW says:

    Pretty powerful, Kaz.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Deblet says:

    It was a scary event,we watched it all happening on TV here in South Africa.Very shocking event for you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I felt so sad reading that. It’s so difficult to imagine how little human life is valued and that this is what our world has become. I hope that everyone finds a normality of a kind. Nothing really goes back to its old place but I hope some peace is restores. Thinking of you.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This was a great piece – you captured perfectly that sense of disconnect when something like this happens. And the weirdness of ‘normal’, after the fact, when it was just luck to not be one of those held inside the cafe for such a long time.

    Even on the other side of the country, we were there with you all, waiting and hoping, and just devastated to wake up the next morning to hear about the deaths. And then Peshawar. I think that broke my heart especially, after Monday.

    I’ve been spending a lot of time hugging my children this week. This is still our world.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. And will always be our Sydney…..it belongs in the hearts of us Aussies

    Liked by 1 person

  13. plover6235 says:

    Still a Great city!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. shantiepc says:

    Reblogged this on The EndPoint Business Blog and commented:
    Beautifully written

    Liked by 1 person

  15. SwirlGirl says:

    Your writing leaves little to be desired. I’m in the fog with you, and simultaneously scared and removed from the situation as you are. It seems like things are coming to a head all around the world, from the U.S. to Australia to Pakistan. This winter is already a truly scary one. It gives me hope that Australia now has #illridewithyou out of this, and I’ve made the point to many people who are confusing crazy terrorists–who happen to be Muslim and have one interpretation of that religion–with all Muslims, or Islam itself. I keep telling people, especially Christians who are doing it, that it’s like judging all of Christianity by the Westboro Baptist Church. It’s all about interpretation, and spreading MORE baseless hatred against innocent (or even not-so-innocent, but not murderous) people not only doesn’t solve the problem, but exacerbates it. I’m seeking to change that mentality with http://hyphenatednation.wordpress.com.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. aanesii says:

    Reblogged this on aanesii.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. ShadeBlade17 says:

    This situation isn’t right. I don’t care what the cause.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I- read says:

    This is a beautiful piece, I followed it through and was captivated. I wrote something about the Peshawar massacre, it is sad and inhumane, I believe in words, it goes farther than us. You can check it out http://ruthspoetry.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/is-our-world-still-sane/ thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kazblah says:

      Yes, I have the same questions you do, particularly around the lack of empathy. It’s good we have these questions. If we didn’t, the world truly would be insane.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Being a Pakistani and specially a Peshawar citizen I can understand what you are suffering from. We are suffering slaughter and losing our love one. We are in War against Terror since last 13 years.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. kazblah says:

      The latest atrocity against your community is unspeakable. We are all horrified by it. I don’t know how anyone justifies the slaughter of children in particular.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. roweeee says:

      I send you my love. I can not begin to understand what you lie with but the people of Sydney that I have spoken to now have a much greater understanding of what you live with and are thinking of you with very heavy hearts. Australia also had a mother allegedly kill 7 of her children and her niece in Cairns last Friday. I have posted a photo of a local billboard which simply said: “Sydney Pakistan Cairns”.

      Liked by 2 people

  20. I almost feel guilty for enjoying this piece. You’ve a wonderful written voice, emotive and honest. A delicately woven tapestry of present history and and emotional anguish. Thank you for tendering the real story instead of the tumble-dried media account.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. kazblah says:

      Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

      Like

  21. Nazia Khan says:

    Reblogged this on Naziablogs and commented:
    Its a brutal reality dealt daily.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Reblogged this on The Paradigm Shuffle and commented:
    The author of this piece, ‘This is still our Sydney’ has written her personal account of December 15 & 16, 2014. A dear friend, we met up on the weekend with no concept of the terrible events to come. Among the many grabs and soundbites since the shock of the siege, many people rush to write about their feelings about the day. It’s allowed of course but the result are often mawkish. This piece isn’t. It is simply one person’s powerful and unbroken story of Sydney this week. I recommend it.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Nazia Khan says:

    I resonate with your feeling its so sad and depressed to witness all such things in this era.
    fail to understand what happening with this World. Just after sydney hostage followed peshawar school massacre… very tragic.
    today definition has changed.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Very well written. Thank you for sharing your story, I can always appreciate a self told story from a situation rather than hearing about it from a third party. It is not only amazing how big of a heart your daughter has, but it is inspiring as well. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of Pakistan, Australia and all the others around the world.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. kazblah says:

      Thank you, Samantha. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. marilynmunrow says:

    Reblogged this on Marilyn Munrow and commented:
    My thoughts and prayers are with everybody in both the Sydney attack and Pakistan too. God bless you all.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Reblogged this on galesmind and commented:
    You will prevail I was in NYC during the attack on 911. It will never be the same though, what the terrorists have taken us our peace of mind. We went on. Is it the same city? No but we are stronger. You will be too. God bless you and Sydney our thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. kazblah says:

      Exactly right, Gale. I can sense that already, with all the flowers that have been laid in Martin Place. It’s our way of cleansing the blight.

      Liked by 2 people

  27. Bevan Chuang says:

    Reblogged this on Bevan Chuang and commented:
    Thoughts are with you, Sydney.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families, and Australia.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. mariaholm says:

    I was praying on and off the whole day as we also got the news immediately when it happened. We are one big family.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Kate says:

    This is really beautifully written, thank you for posting.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. princezzpinkz says:

    This is perfect keep your head up its going to be hard and trauma may still play but youll be ok just keep living

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Arisetotrash says:

    I can’t imagine how hard it must be to go through something like this.
    My heart is with you and all those in Sydney dealing with this violent, horrific situation.

    I have to thank you for writing this;
    it is a fantastic piece of writing, I’m happy to read something coming from a real person and not the news stations. I feel like I can understand it and come to terms with it in a better way than I had chosen to (ignore the t.v screen).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. kazblah says:

      Very kind words, thank you. I must say it has taken me by surprise how much the piece has struck a chord with people. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Eve says:

    Reblogged this on Fivefeetmusings and commented:
    What struck me most was the bit of compassion the writer’s daughter had for the gunman…
    How is it that children, who know much less than adults do, can have bigger hearts for people who don’t deserve it?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. kazblah says:

      That’s right, Eve. It really stopped me in my tracks.

      Liked by 1 person

  34. Petrea King says:

    Kaz, you’ve captured beautifully the mood of many. Thank you.

    If I could share a few thoughts from having worked with many thousands of traumatised people…and because I’ve had more than a few myself…

    We have all been deeply shocked by what has happened. We are confronted with the precariousness of life and how randomly and quickly it can change – change profoundly, irrevocably, instantly, tragically. We are confronted by our mortality and what the death of our, or our loved one’s life means to us.

    Such shocking events don’t have intrinsic meaning. If we are to find a peaceful pathway forward, one that allows us to collectively heal from the trauma we have experienced, then we need to acknowledge and embrace the pain and anguish – as has been demonstrated by so many publicly and all of us privately. Through the laying of flowers, we honour Katrina’s and Tori’s sacrifice and the awful tragedy and trauma of it all and, at the same time, we affirm our commitment to a peaceful, compassionate society that refuses to be enslaved by fear, prejudice and judgment – all of which lead to disunity. We demonstrate collectively our commitment to tolerance, compassion, connection and love.

    We can then further honour Katrina’s and Tori’s lives and the trauma everyone has suffered by how we choose to live ours. We can choose to respond with courage, creativity and with a commitment to establishing peace within ourselves so that we can have peace wiithin our communities. Imagine if we all responded to this atrocity by consciously choosing to create some act of peace within ourselves, our family, our community, our nation?

    Right now we are meant to feel numb, dumfounded, bewildered, distressed, angry, fearful or whatever it is that we feel moment to moment. Sometimes it will be a mish mash of feelings. Confusion, spacinesss, dislocated, despairing – all these feelings are normal and it’s fine to feel anything. It’s what we DO with our feelings that is important. Do your best to witness these feelings without judging or resisting them. Recognise that feelings come and go. You are more than your feelings because you’re able to witness them.

    Avoid reacting from challenging feelings as you may say or do things you later regret. If you’re feeling really distressed then reach out for help. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are not entitled to the feelings you may be experiencing because you weren’t directly involved. Your were directly involved whether you work in Martin Place or you watched the nightmare unfolding on television, through tweets, FB or other media. You may feel traumatised. That’s because you have a good and compassionate heart and you have been deeply disturbed by what has happened. You may have felt great fear and a sense of helplessness. Why wouldn’t we be feeling distresssed? If these feelings are overwhelming you may find it helpful to find someone to talk with that you trust. Your GP? A relative, friend, counsellor?

    Be with people you can be ‘real’ with; people who will listen to you and allow you to ‘have’ the feelings you’re experiencing without judging you or trying to ‘fix you up’. Perhaps, if you feel retraumatised by talking about what happened then put some clear boundaries in place by telling people that you would prefer not to discuss it. Others may find it useful to limit how long they are going to talk it. Do what you need to do to stay emotionally healthy.

    People who are feeling overly anxious or already dealing with grief, depression or other trauma may find their experiences heightened at present so it is important that we are all as gentle and respectful of one another as possible. It would be good to cut each other a bit of slack at present and recognise that everyone is feeling upset or traumatised and that some may be having a hard time managing their feelings or are finding them overwhelming. Some may benefit from attending a retreat to regain their inner equilibrium, make meaning of their experience and find a pathway forward. Our retreat, Healing Your Life is designed for people who have experienced trauma and are having difficulty integrating their experience and who want to move forward, feeling more empowered to live their life. The program is supported by NSW Health and the Quest for Life Foundation and we endeavour to turn no one away on financial grounds. Info can be found at questforlife.com.au.

    Take extra care to do the things that nourish and replenish you in these days and weeks ahead. Perhaps it’s exercise or solitude, time with a hobby or sport, doing the things you love, being with people you love, sleep, making or listening to music, being in nature, ritual, prayer, yoga, meditation, playfulness, soaking baths…whatever brings you to the moment where you will reconnect with a more stable and grounded part of yourself. Exercise is particularly good as it shifts the chemicals of stress out of the body. Eating fresh, whole foods is helpful. Go gently with alcohol and don’t use it to suppress your feelings. Find someone to talk to instead. Avoid isolating yourself but make sure you have time for solitude if that is your resting place.

    There is no one way forward. If we are ever to find peace beyond this then we need to do as we are doing. We are taking on the enormity of what has happened. We have gathered to overcome violence and difference, with a show of unity and love. We have affirmed that collectively, we are the beating heart of Sydney. From this foundation we can grow.

    In time, it might be useful for us all to create an act of peace within ourself, our family or our community as a way of consciously honouring the suffering while making a commitment to creating more peace in our lives, individually and collectively.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. kazblah says:

      Thanks for taking the time to write this, Petrea. I’m sure many people will find it helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. roweeee says:

      Thank you so much for commenting on this situation, Petrea. I’m going to print out your comment and really process and act on it. I am a mum on two young children who has been fighting a life-threatening auto-immune disease and I’ve had some very close calls…some real and some false alarms which had the pretty much the same effect. I’ve been doing all sorts of projects to record our lives for our kids including teaching them how to cook and we’re working on writing our own cookbook.
      All of this really brings home what her children have lost. They’ve not only lost their Mum but also part of themselves. Parents a treasure trove of memories and of course, love.
      I think I’ll look into your course. I have your book by bed and need to get back to it. Many thanks, Rowena

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Anonymous says:

    well worth a read – thanks Kaz

    Liked by 4 people

  36. raphaela99 says:

    Yes, it is still our city. xxx

    Liked by 4 people

  37. Anna says:

    Lovely post Kaz. Captures that strange dislocation we feel in precarious, uncertain times.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. kazblah says:

      Thanks Anna. Glad it struck a chord.

      Liked by 3 people

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