Today like so many of you, my heart is heavy….the pit of my stomach hollow. The Sydney siege is playing on my mind.
Glued to the television like thousands, maybe millions of others, I watched the tragic events unfold before me on Monday up here in North West China.
Thankfully access to news channel CNN in the hotel, meant my lovely mum was spared having to text message me the harrowing details, bit by bit, piece by piece.
If you watched, like me, you probably found it hard to tear yourself away from the rolling coverage that punctured our lounge rooms like a bad smell.
Even if – as the hours wore on, and broadcasters seemed to be going around in circles having gleaned as much information as possible (which wasn’t much) I began to wonder why so much attention was being paid to this story from the other side of the globe.
But it was a story that captivated us. It could have been anywhere. A downtown cafe, morning coffee-lovers and a lone gunman on the loose.
A cafe is a place we go to escape the outside world. A safe haven where we can relax in solitude or catch up with friends and loved ones.
It’s a drop in point, a start to the day and an end to the day.
As I sit here writing this in a cafe, there’s no denying these meeting spots are a central part of our lives.
Along with the rest of the world, I watched on in horror, mulling over the big questions. Was he a terrorist? Was he acting within a group? Why?
I watched as the puzzled and despairing faces of broadcasters bounced off my screen, some of them former colleagues and friends.
This was our beloved Sydney. The relaxed and sunny harbour city with an attitude to match. A place where everything is plentiful and peaceful. There’s a reason they call it the land of sunshine and mateship.
Perhaps it’s stretching the fairytale to say “bad” things don’t happen Down Under, but by and large our shores have been untouched by terrorists.
As with many stories lacking answers, people start looking for someone to blame. Animosity bubbled below the surface towards Islam and it threatened to erupt into an angry war of words and potentially so much more, amongst even the best of Australians.
But, in what is quite possibly an unparalleled act of unity, by afternoon the hashtag #illridewithyou had gone viral. As rapidly as an Aussie bushfire sweeps through dense scrub, this one sentence rallied Australians together in the most uplifting way possible.
From afar, I was bursting with pride.
By late evening social media was swarming with posts praying for a peaceful outcome.
Having watched three hostages fearfully escape for their lives earlier, but thankfully unharmed; I wrenched myself away from the tele and went to bed, naively thinking I would wake to hear they’d all met a similar fate and the horror of the day was over.
Waking a little later than usual, my first contact with the outside world was a text from mum. I saw the words “a sad day” and suspected it hadn’t gone well. I couldn’t envisage just how badly though. For a brief minute, my subconscious wouldn’t let me believe it.
I frantically scoured Facebook and Twitter, scrambling for some semblance of words confronting me with the tragic truth.
My first image was of wreathes laid out in Martin Place …and I felt my gut contort.
The Lindt Chocolate Cafe is not a cafe I’ve been in before, but I know Martin Place well. It’s etched in my memory after years of living and working in Sydney. Normally an inconsequential stretch for a stroll to meet friends; a popular spot where many friends have worked over the years (including my husband). Channel 7 and the Sky News bureau on its doorstep, restaurants where much laughter has been had, meetings held and one of the most important days of my life, my wedding at the Westin Hotel, No 1 Martin Place.
I see posts from weary friends coming home after reporting in front of the camera and behind the scenes all through the night…..a tough stint to take on, on any given day. Their around the clock efforts are not lost on a world desperate for answers, but I feel their pain conveying such a distressing outcome.
The journalist in me needs to know every detail so I trawl through every report I can find online, slowly letting the tragedy sink in.
I’m reluctant to turn the TV on with my four year old girl at home. How do you explain such an horrendous event? The experts say don’t even try.
She senses my sombre mood and I try to give the word ‘tolerance’ a go. I find myself talking about her favourite colour pink and how just because someone else likes red instead, that’s OK.
I find it fitting that her Christmas concert here in Xi’an that night is called “The World of Christmas!” On stage we hear Merry Christmas spoken in five different languages. A phrase I’ve seen earlier in the day “we are all different but there is only one type of human” rings in my head.
Staring sorrowfully into the faces of the two innocent victims, it’s too easy to see a piece of ourselves in them. It hits home just how easy it could’ve been any one of us, any friend or any family member in that cafe….. and that chills me to the bone.
These kinds of cowardly acts happen the world over far too frequently and it’s always gut wrenching, but never is it more real than when it’s on home soil.
I talk to other expat friends over the days and we all feel the same. So close yet so far away.
All I want to do is stand in Martin Place and feel the warmth of a nation beside me.
Heartbroken for all those involved, especially those brave survivors and the courageous two we lost, know that friends the world over are united in mourning.
Stay strong Australia. I’ll Ride With You.
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