The City With Soul

It’s taken me a while to know what to write about what happened in Sydney on December 15 and 16 in Martin Place. The discussion has turned from terrorism to racism to gun control to bail proceedings to police procedure and to the loss the families of the deceased must be feeling and still I find it hard to articulate my own thoughts. There are just too many.

I have caught myself enjoying the anticipation of Santa’s impending arrival with two giddy children, only to wonder a moment later about the despair of three other children whose mother will never come home. Three children whose mother went for a coffee with a colleague one morning and was inexplicably lost. I wonder what their Christmas morning will be like and it’s difficult to fight back tears. And then I think about the partner of a café manager who will never see the love of his life again. How sad he must be. How deeply he must feel such a loss. I wonder as well about the other fifteen hostages who will be forever changed by this tragedy.

I know, logically, that these things happen every day around the world. Children become motherless, or worse, orphans. Mothers lose children, partners lose their true love. There is sadness in the world, it’s true, and in the scheme of things there is so much to be grateful for in this beautiful city.

I’ve travelled a little, lived on three continents and visited two more. I’ve seen beautiful things all over the world, met remarkable people and enjoyed rich and plentiful cultures. But Sydney, my birthplace and now my home, has always seemed unique to me.

I’ve always felt that there was an identity underneath the city, like a beating heart that stays hidden as it keeps the city alive and plodding. I’ve always known the personality of this city, but never heard it articulated. In fact, sometimes I think none of us can explain it and that outsiders may interpret our lack of articulation as a lack of soul. London is vibrant, Paris is sophisticated, Rome is old world, New York is corporate, and our great rival, Melbourne, is the cosmopolitan capital of Australia.

Through this tragedy I have realised that Sydney is more than a group of 5 million people. It has soul, and that comes from the people who inhabit this beautiful place. Too often, we think of ourselves in terms of our surrounds instead of acknowledging the people within. We are more than pretty buildings sitting in a beautiful harbour that is dotted with stunning beaches.

Last Monday this city erupted, united in anger, fear and compassion. And all week since thousands of Sydney-siders of every race, colour and creed have laid hundreds and thousands of flowers in the heart of this city, surrounded by skyscrapers in the financial district, in one of the busiest parts of the business district. Thousands of people from every walk of life have mourned the two of our own that fell that night, in what can only be described as a unique and very unified reaction.

The discussions will continue for months, maybe years to come, and at some point I may be able to put into words how we changed that night. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the sadness I imagine two families are feeling right now, or be able to appropriately put into words how I grieve for them. But now I know without doubt that this is a Sydney to be proud of. That what defines us is not our beautiful skyline or even our many cultures. What defines us is the image of Martin Place so full with flowers they spill into the streets of our CBD. It represents our humanity, our unity and our empathy for each other. It reminds us of the beating heart of this city and what we are capable of in adversity. Sydney is the city with soul.

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