(Dec 2014) Ezy Reading:
To Turn Back The Clock
Evan Kanarakis

 

In the aftermath of the tragic hostage crisis that took place this past December 15-16 at a Lindt chocolate café in Martin Place, Sydney, the expected flood of reactions from such an incident inevitably followed. Debate raged over the designation of gunman Man Haron Monis’ actions as ‘terrorism’, with several commentators trying to put the events of December into a context alongside other past terrorist attacks in Australia, such as the 1978 Sydney Hilton Bombing. Others chose to challenge the efficacy of the 2013 Bail Act that allowed Monis to be granted bail while still awaiting charges related to the death of his wife as well as numerous sexual assault offences. Elsewhere, many focused their analysis on the media’s coverage of the incident, and particularly upon the reporting of unsubstantiated rumour and presentation of events in a sensationalist manner by certain news outlets. Political grandstanding and finger pointing naturally abounded, yet enough government and community leader voices could also be heard pleading with an emotionally charged public to stay true to Australia’s well-established national character as an inclusive multicultural society, and to recognise that the acts of one man should not take away from that reality. Above the din of all this commentary there was, of course, talk of the victims. 18 hostages were confirmed within the Lindt chocolate café. Of those, four suffered non-fatal injuries and two were tragically killed. The first was 34-year-old Tori Johnson, manager of the café, and the second was Katrina Dawson, a 38-year-old barrister.

As the events had unfolded in Sydney, I was seated on a bar stool with a friend in a Hell’s Kitchen dive bar here in New York City. Coverage of a basketball game was interrupted with live footage of Martin Place. It was surreal to see my home city abuzz with tactical police units as they swiftly tried to evacuate the CBD and negotiate the release of hostages. Almost immediately I started receiving a handful of messages from friends here in the U.S asking if everyone I knew in Sydney was okay. It was of course impossible to be certain –the majority of my friends and family in Australia all work within a 3-mile radius of Martin Place- but I assured everyone that, odds were, anyone I knew was among those who had been promptly evacuated from the area. I went to bed that night in shock and completely ill at ease as I tried to wrap my head around what the hell was happening back home. The next day, the saga had at last come to a close when police raided the café. My stomach sank as I read online that while the gunman had been killed there were other victims- but no names had been released yet. It wasn’t until just after 6pm that night as I left work and was walking home that my phone started buzzing with a flurry of calls and texts. They had released the names of the victims, and one of them was Katrina Dawson.

It had been a few years since I last saw Katrina or ‘Treen’ as I knew her. We attended Sydney University together and shared many a class in law school, but given how intertwined our residential colleges were back then, we also shared many a drink together, too. Those were fun, carefree days, and memories of college formals, 21st birthday celebrations and late nights at the student bar –The Salisbury- abound. In the years after, I saw less and less of Treen, especially after I moved to America, but I was always happy to hear through mutual friends that she was keeping well. She was a kind and generous spirit, yet also possessed a brilliant legal mind, so it was no surprise to hear of her flourishing as a barrister. By the time I last saw her –about three years ago- Treen had married and was mother to three children. We had come a long way indeed from late nights at the Salisbury.
I offered that I owed her a thank you. Treen was perplexed.
“For what?” she asked.

Back at law school it was no great mystery that my heart wasn’t exactly devoted to law. I enjoyed aspects of the field, sure, and while I was committed to completing my studies I was also wholly determined to finding a way to pursue a career in writing after graduation –as opposed to seeking out work in a law firm as so many of my classmates would. As such, and particularly in my last year of university, I didn’t always have the greatest attendance record (it didn’t help matters that our bus to law school drove directly past Sydney’s main cinema district on George Street each day).

The morning after one such cinema-related absence, I encountered Treen in the hallway of law school and she gently chastised me for not having made it to a litigation class the afternoon prior. I sheepishly answered that I had instead opted to attend a screening of The English Patient. I recall distinctly as Treen, shaking her head (and without my having asked for them) handed me her litigation notes while, smiling, added,  “I really do hope you find success as a writer, Ezy. Because I think you’d make a horrible lawyer. But I’m sure you’ll make a wonderful writer…”

Recounting this story years later, Treen laughed. She couldn’t remember the exchange at all, even as I assured her that she not only had essentially helped me pass litigation that year, but also provided some assurance into my next step forward in life from someone whose opinion I valued.

A tragedy is a tragedy no matter which way you look at it. That said, there’s no doubt that a personal connection to tragedy –even a connection that has been dimmed by the passing of time- makes it all the more real and heartbreaking. As I walked home from work that cool December night with the news of Katrina’s passing to mind, I thought of her family, her many close friends and colleagues, and I contemplated in awe at just how extraordinary the reach would be of people impacted and affected by the heartbreaking loss of this extraordinary woman. I pondered the exact same reach of grief and loss that would now also consume the many friends and family members of Tori Johnson. Miles away and years removed from experiences that feel like they took place an eternity ago, I found myself catching glimpses of those college formals, 21st birthdays and late nights in the Salisbury again. I saw Treen rolling her eyes in mock disgust as she handed me her litigation notes. And I recalled glancing back in the hallway to find Treen calling after me to ask whether I could in fact recommend The English Patient as a movie she should see.

Before he died, I had a late-night conversation with my grandfather in Boston that found him in an unusually reflective mood. He spoke of his experiences in the Marine Corps and of World War II, and he contemplated the highs and lows of his life afterward when raising a family with my grandmother and running a local neighbourhood bar in Peabody, Massachusetts.
“I have no regrets”, he explained. “But still, if I had a chance… I’d turn back the clock. It all goes by too quickly, son. There's always so much more living you could fit into those hours, days and years. So much more... If I could turn back the clock and live it all again. Well… that’s what I’d do.”

I’ve thought a great deal about my grandfather’s words in the past few weeks. So often in life we catch ourselves wishing we had just a little bit more time. What else could we have achieved, overcome and experienced? How much more would we have relished even the most fleeting of moments?

True enough, if the events of December 15-16 have shown us anything, it’s that some lives deserve a chance to turn back the clock.

Even those that have managed to fit a remarkable life into an achingly all-too short period of time.

 

The Katrina Dawson Foundation was established to preserve and honour the memory of Katrina and all she achieved. For more information, visit: http://www.thekatrinadawsonfoundation.org/

A memorial fund to honour Tori Johnson has also been established with Beyond Blue. For more information, visit: http://beyondblueinmemoriam.everydayhero.com/au/torijohnson

 

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