At work, I bring in the newspaper every morning and lend it out to people who want to read. People come down and have water cooler chats with me about current events. Highly unusually, there have been three tragic Australian major news stories in as many weeks:
26 Nov, the death of Phillip Hughes: a young cricket player died from injuries sustained during play. In a freak accident, Hughes was struck with a ball in the neck, splitting the cerebral artery, never regained consciousness and died in the hospital two days later. Public outpouring of grief was staggering. It was all over the news and on everyone’s mind and tongue. In a country where talking about feelings isn’t the norm, people were quick to share their grief. Everyone was sad about it, immediately hanging and shaking their heads for days after his death. Australians I know felt his death very personally and spoke of him like a friend. There was also a strong sense of “this isn’t supposed to happen”, that cricket should be safe and shattering that concept made Hughes’ death hit home even more. There has been debate about cricket safety, discussions on potential changes. and tributes.
11 Dec, the disappearance and death of Sam Trott: a two and a half year old boy wandered out the back door of his house, setting off a massive search that resulted in finding his body drowned in a nearby lake. After he went missing, the search took over a day and dominated the front page of the news. During that time, co-workers passing by my desk would say in passing how much they hoped someone would find the little boy. Again, there was a feeling of tragedy in the fact that young children are supposed to be safe their homes. This isn’t supposed to happen.
16 Dec, the Sydney siege: an Islamic fanatic held 15 people hostage in a Sydney café, ultimately resulting in the death of two hostages and the gunman. This happening is scary and captured world-wide media attention, from so many angles: the gunman’s motivations, timelines of the event, the grief for the victims, Uber’s insensitive dynamic pricing during crisis, Australian gun control, and the #iwillridewithyou anti-Islamaphobia social media campaign to prevent backlash against Muslims. All of this is huge news. However, the Sydney siege is not openly on the lips of anyone I know. It is not a casual topic.
After the death of Sam Trott, I asked a co-worker who often comes down for the paper to explain to me a bit more about the cultural reaction to Sam and Phillip’s deaths, how people feel them so acutely. We discussed feeling stronger empathy when bad things strike in what is supposed to be a safe environment. Today, I saw her and she told me she had been thinking of my cultural question, this time in regards to the Sydney siege. She told to me that she noticed there wasn’t the same open expression about the siege because–from her view–there are some things you don’t say. The thought that simply going for a coffee (so incredibly commonplace) could no longer be safe is a concept that cannot be given voice. It is certainly on everyone’s mind. But the implications are too much, too serious, to say.