I know she lives in my community. I also know that she has children, and that her eyes are quite pretty. But that’s all I know about the mysterious lady from whose company I quickly departed with my daughters while attending a children’s music festival last Thursday. Hosted by our local university, there was a large cross-section of our multi-cultural community enjoying the gorgeous Spring weather & the celebratory atmosphere of the festival.
A week earlier, our country’s “terror alert” had been raised from medium to high: a terrorist attack is now likely. Add to this the fact that just the day before, anti-terror raids had been executed across several states in our country, taking a handful of people into custody, accused of plotting an awful random crime against an unsuspecting public.
Consequently, almost involuntarily I was operating on higher alert toward those in my community who might pose a random threat to me and to my family. I found myself surveying my fellow caffeinators, imagining what it might be like for one of them to randomly launch a knife at my neck & shout a loud declaration in honour of their fearsome god.
Distracted from my bleak imaginations by the long black suddenly bearing my name, I thanked the barista & moved to join my daughters in front of a nearby makeshift stage. A group of parents, students, and children milled around, being entertained by a group of enthusiastic, young singers. I quickly noticed one lady: covered head to toe in free-flowing clothing, her face veil betrayed only her bright brown eyes; she was difficult to overlook. Unsure of what to do with my own awkwardness about how to possibly interact with someone so closed off from the world around her, I made random glances in her direction without any intention of personal engagement.
My curiosity about her carefully hidden life was soon curtailed when she walked towards our location, placed a large black folder on the seat next to us, and then walked away with her family to another place altogether, completely out of sight. It seemed a little odd to me and before I knew it, my bleak imagination had returned & adrenaline saw me promptly moving my daughters to another location far away from the abandoned item before it could blow us to smithereens. I was quite suitably “alert, but not alarmed”, entirely unaware that the increased police presence on campus was indeed related to a bomb threat. As I later processed the bomb hoax by an imbecilic 19 year old, I couldn’t help but realize that I’m not alert; I am in fact alarmed. I am alarmed by a number of things, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not alone in some of them.
I am alarmed by extremists who lack any regard for life.
I am alarmed that I have allowed myself to see potential terrorists behind every Middle Eastern face, while conveniently ignoring the potential drunken terrorist behind the wheel of every vehicle.
I am alarmed by an ideology that believes a woman should be concealed under billowing swathes of unpractical clothing.
I am alarmed that I have allowed myself the right to disengage from her because I do not understand why she is wearing clothing that is so offensive to me.
I am alarmed by so many new Australians’ inability to speak English.
I am alarmed that I have allowed myself to sanctimoniously silently correct others’ misuse of the English language without reaching out to anyone around me to offer support from my position of educated privilege.
I am alarmed by the seeming increase of tribalism in Australia.
I am alarmed that I have not chosen to actively share my culture, having very few friends with ethnicity of difference to mine, ignorantly & subconsciously preferring to live securely in my middle-class white tribe.
There are a myriad of things in this world that alarm me; many of them are so atrocious, they are unspeakable. But what alarms me most is that I too quickly allow fear of others to move me, rather than reaching out beyond my safe, well-established tribe. I don’t know the woman from whose folder I ran at the music festival, but I have already made many judgments about her. Based on confronting world events, I fled from a fellow mother because I didn’t trust her, holding her instead under immediate suspicion. This is not how I want to live; as an active participant, this is not the world I envision. I want my life to be lived in such a way that both of our lives are enriched & improved. Yes I want my government to be strong & to protect its citizens, but the government will never know what life is like, for either that woman or me. And neither should it. Much of the responsibility for creating a stable, cohesive society does lie with our governments; but when it comes to co-existing together, advancing humanity together, really living life alongside one another, in community… that’s our individual responsibility, my responsibility, completely independent of our governments’ activities.
So in the future, I hope I choose to be alert.
Alert to hope.
Alert to diversity.
Alert to personhood.
Alert to shared struggle.
Alert to common delight.
Alert to love of my fellow man.
I want to be alert to living a life that reaches out to others, instead of simply conserving the little bit of awesomeness that I’ve been given to enjoy.
And if in living a life of generous spirit I meet my physical demise, I pray that those with whom I have engaged might know that, ultimately, it is only in losing the life we have that we find the life after which we desire.