Is it possible one week might embody a whole year? A neighbourhood the entire world? Yes, I think that maybe it is. We have been laid bare these past 12 months. We have prioritised border protection over human suffering, progress over environmental destruction. Despite centuries of advancement and evolvement, of knowledge gained and lessons learned, we have shown ourselves at heart to still be warmongers and sexual predators. We have let ourselves be divided, by politics, ethnicity, and income. And yet in among the worst of it, the very worst of us, hope flowers and sometimes, oh sometimes, our best is permitted to prevail. Here, then, is my week gone.
Standing at the end of the queue in my local Post Office, despairing at the wait, the automatic doors opened behind me. I turned around and, in that brief window on to the outside street, I glimpsed such ugliness it quite took my breath away. To one side the familiar sight and sound of the lanky, elderly busker who strums his guitar, and, mostly tunefully, negotiates his way through a litany of folksongs. On the other side a young girl, who, also a familiar sight, sits as sadly as anyone I've ever seen. Even on the warmest of days she is enshrouded by her nylon sleeping bag and I wonder from what she hides. She proffers neither hat nor container, but on her lap sits a handwritten sign. She is begging and she either cannot or will not meet your eyes. Sometimes I give her money, sometimes I hasten past because I have none, and I am ashamed, ashamed that I am happy and she is not, or that in that particular moment on that particular day, in spite of everything I have, I am unhappy. As I watched, a third player, a woman whose age I would put at 67ish, straw hat firmly on her head, pearl necklace jammed around her neck, spittle collecting in the corners of her coral lipsticked-mouth, entered the frame. And this woman lent down, got right up into that young girl's face, and as clear and as cruel as a bell at first light, said: "Haven't you heard of social welfare?" Then she righted herself and marched on, and I ran after her. I imagined grabbing her. Haven't you heard of empathy, I would spit into her well-fed, smug face. It's Christmas, where is your goodwill? But just as her self-righteous shoulder came in reach I chickened out. I'm sorry, I said, going back to the young girl. For how she spoke to you. And I handed her the pathetic amount of small change in my purse. She did not or could not look at me.
Several days later, 100m down the road from that scene, I attended my son's intermediate school graduation. Childhood's swansong; such a funny life stage. Puberty was both everywhere and nowhere to be seen. Four girls wore the same dress and one girl what appeared to be a wedding dress. Some students hugged their teacher, some scuttled off the stage. Some parents yelled out. Go, boy! Kia Kaha! A montage of faces: mouths full of braces, foreheads full of zits. Some were beautiful, most were ordinary-looking. And as each received their certificate, no child singled out over another at this ceremony of completion, I was struck by their sense of kinship. Their acceptance of each other.
Later that night I was lucky to see Cat Stevens play live at Spark Arena. Oddly enough it was at intermediate school that I fell in love with his kooky little songs. He's almost 70 now; and he looked old up there, but his message was unchanged. Peace and love and kindness; it's all that matters. The audience was full of baby boomers, women who looked just like that woman outside the post office and I wondered if she was out there somewhere. If his words made her regret hers.
Forty years ago this month Cat Stevens converted to Islam, a religion the Western world has come to fear. He spoke a lot about seeking answers before finding his light. His answer is not mine, however I understand his search. As the year draws to an end, I'm not sure I'm any wiser, increasingly, though, what I do see is that we are not so very different, that we all experience pain. It is only in the fine print that it differs.