Yesterday, 28th April was quite a day for me. It was a day when I saw again and again the inherent fineness and goodness in many human beings.
Ironically, it was at two places where I was dealing with death.
For many years I have been participating in a service, both secular and religious to honour and remember those who died whilst at work. As you can imagine many of the suffering families turn up simply because they can’t stay away. The service/event is very simple. Dignitaries get up and speak and in the middle is a bit designated “religious” at which usually a Catholic priest, myself, a Jewish Rabbi and a Muslim Imam participate. Afterwards everyone leaves a flower on the Sculpture of Remembrance. Many leave photographs, too.
What always strikes me in this service is the quiet dignity of the bereaving families who turn up. Usually it is the wife and the children together with some extended family members. They all sit together, tears occasionally appear on their faces and their hands seem to alternatively move from one family member’s clutch to the other.
This service was especially poignant to me as I noticed a small family sitting nearby. The mother fiercely tried to keep herself composed but the tears and grief kept showing. She sat next to her daughter who was often behaving the same. Beside them sat their son who would have been in their late teens. He had on the usual curved dark glasses and you could feel him feeling “What am I doing here at this? What do I have to do? I don’t really want to be here! I don’t like the feelings I’m feeling! I just feel so dreadful!” but because he loved his Dad he sat there. They were obviously a knockabout family and the lifetime struggles they had undergone were etched in their beings. There were lots of hesitant movements and self-corrections. As the appointed time came they moved as a little group to join the line of people to leave flowers and they moved as one to place their flowers and photograph. All this was done with a quiet dignity that was meant to not put them on display and it came from within and not from a desire to please anyone.
When they returned and sat down I walked over “Are you guys okay?” I asked. All of them looked at me and one, I think the mother said “Yes, we are. Thank you”.
I saw them again at the lunch afterwards sitting in a little booth all alone. Again, I went up to them. “Are you guys being looked after okay?” I asked. “Yes, thank you”, said the mother. “And thank you”.
I simply did not want them to feel all terribly alone.
That evening I heard there was a vigil in Martin Place in the forlorn hope that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran would not be executed that night in Indonesia. I felt I simply had to go.
When I arrived there I was once again awed at the respectful silence of the hundreds there and the goodness in the faces of all those who had turned up. I arrived, collected my candle, lit it and sat it with many of the other candles. A sort of line would form of new arrivals who would do what I did. After that people simply stood around, often immersed in their own thoughts. I was surprised by the number of mothers with children in strollers who came either with their partner or alone. By the time I got there, there were no speeches, no music just people, coming and doing whatever they felt they had to do.
What really affected me was the feeling of profound goodness amongst the people who had turned up. There were lawyers, workers, people on their way home who stopped by, families, individuals, groups, people of all ethnic backgrounds and I guess beliefs.
As one lawyer said to me “Bill – what a peaceful place. It is the secular coming together of people who care”.
Like I had seen in Martin Place after the hostage crisis, on the occupied streets of Hong Kong, in Paris after during the Charlie Hebdo incident, it was the simple coming together of ordinary people with no agenda that got to me. People were there out of their own goodness and, in a way, saying to the forces of darkness, “you cannot overtake us”.
I was so moved by all of this I began tweeting photos and comments. I was surprised by the numbers who responded. The positive feedback I kept receiving was encouraging. I then realised many people who weren’t there would have been there if they could, so I sent out a tweet saying “I f you are here with me in spirit – please let me know”. A large number did so and I dutifully said a prayer for them.
In this world at the moment we are going through a particularly hard time. A lack of confidence in our institutions and leaders, the constant technological change, constant movement of peoples and then there is always, always, the mess in the Middle East that affects us even in our own neighbourhood.
What I saw last night was reaffirmation of those words in St John’s Gospel “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never quite been able to put it out”. I reckon that light of goodness in us all is on display probably every day however, we only have to look beyond the darkness to see it.