Don’t Follow the Herd

The Universe always sends a message, just when you need it most.

I took my Princess out for a special birthday treat today. A girl’s day out.
She wakes up excited and gets dressed in her brand new floral dress and matching purple coat. Girls don’t need much of an excuse for a new frock, now do they? We head off to the first item on our agenda, a heart starting latte` for me, a hot chocolate with marshmallows for her, and a long overdue manicure for us both.

After the drive to Melbourne, we park our car in secure parking and pop into a cafe for lunch. A quick bite and some silly photo taking later, we walk to the Regent Theatre, where we have front row tickets to a Matinee’ of Annie the musical.
We find our seats; check out the orchestra in the pit, flick through our programme and talk about how pretty her hair looks as I watch her fuss with the bow. Then the lights dim and it’s show time.
The show is great, if you haven’t yet seen it, you should seriously think about it. (Those kids! They’re about 9 and singing and dancing like superstars; some people get all the talent.)

Intermission calls for snacks and the obligatory Merchandise stand, where we adopt ‘Sandy’ the fluffy plush dog.

At the final curtain Bert Newton tells us about the Rob Guest Endowment. After the stars untimely death, a memorial fund was established in his name, to assist emerging young performers in musical theatre. There will be collectors at the exits to take our donations. I figure it’s a good cause and intend to donate, but somehow in the sea of human bodies exiting the theatre I did not see a single collector. Oh well, next time.

The herd begins to move and disperse down the street. We follow a line of other women, Mothers and Daughters, Grandmas and girlfriends. I notice the sea of people parting around a young woman standing in the middle of the thoroughfare. Mothers are looking at the ground as they pass her, quickening their steps and tugging their daughters away from her sad pleading eyes. There is a visible divide between her and the crowd.

“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays

I see her. She is standing in the drizzle, her wet hair hanging in rat’s tails. Wearing pink pyjama pants and slippers with a thin hoodie, her arms crossed over her chest, shivering. Her head low, she stifles a sob as the theatre going women give her a wide berth, as they try not to see. She is amidst hundreds of women, yet her loneliness emanates in a way I have never before witnessed. I feel the heaviness in her heart. She is defeated, beyond sad, helpless. Her eyes are dripping pools of sorrow.

I decide to break from the herd.

I don’t walk around her like the rest; I walk straight down the middle of the parted sea of people. She notices me, noticing her, and almost apologetically, she looks at her hands and says ‘Could you spare some change?’
When I smile at her and say ‘Sure’ reaching into my bag, she lifts her head for the first time and then collapses in tears. She looks at me like I am some kind of mirage. “Oh My God. I can’t believe you said yes! People think if you’re homeless you must be a druggie. Oh My God, I can’t believe it, thank you so much. I’m going to catch a tram to the Salvo’s and buy a blanket.”  I hand her all the cash I have, about $10, she is so grateful it’s embarrassing. I am sorry I haven’t got more to give. Her pain is palpable, still people rush past us and try not to look at her. I touch her arm and tell her to stay safe. She looks at me, deep into my eyes and I see her gratitude. I have acknowledged her humanity.
As I walk away I am glad that I didn’t see the Rob Guest Collectors at the doors to the theatre.

Princess asks me what I was doing. I tell her that the lady doesn’t have any money, so I’m sharing some of ours, to which she replies “Why doesn’t she just go to the bank and get some?”
If only it were that easy.

All the way home I can’t get her out of my head. Those sad blue eyes. I miss my turn off the freeway and spend 30 minutes finding my way back. I curse myself for not going to an ATM to get some more cash. $10 is not enough! What does a blanket cost at the Salvos? I could have at least driven her there. I hope she is warm tonight.  I start to feel guilty about how easy our lives are by comparison. Or not even by comparison. Just Easy.
Here we are spending hundreds of dollars on one afternoons’ entertainment, getting pissed off with the price of CBD parking all the while knowing we will pay it, and all she wants is a blanket.
Reality check right there.

My special day with Princess has left me feeling ridiculously indulgent.

Princess new outfit $124.95
Mother daughter Manicure $60
Cafe lunch $23
Front row tickets $198
Intermission snacks $22
Merchandise $50
CBD Parking $71
A reminder of how frickin’ fortunate I am, in the shape of a woman with sad blue eyes – Priceless.

Please, as you sit here and read this, with your laptop or ipad or smartphone, with your wine on the coffee table, in you central heated lounge and the 64inch LCD on in the background, remember how fortunate you are.
If you can acknowledge the suffering of another human being in need, please give. Money, food, blankets, time, something.
While you’re at it, don’t tug your children away from those in need; teach them to have a heart. Teach them compassion, teach them to share.

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3 Responses to Don’t Follow the Herd

  1. A very valuable lesson to teach our children

  2. Jennie says:

    Princess is very fortunate, I hope she enjoyed her day. More importantly she remembers the lesson of the sad blue eyes. We are all guilty of looking through those less fortunate than ourselves, yet there but for the grace of God go I. thanks for a timely reminder.

    • Yes Princess is fortunate. In a way, I am glad that we were given the opportunity to have the discussion, if it weren’t for that woman we would not have spared a thought for those less fortunate than ourselves.
      The universe always sends a message, just when you need it most.
      I’m not going to wait for those opporunities anymore, I’m going to make them, regularly.

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