BY ELIZABETH McKENZIE
A few years ago, I fell flat on my face, quite literally.
I became aware of three things simultaneously - a high pitched keening sound; a small pool of blood under my nose; and a forest of legs clad in a huge variety of footwear ranging from thongs to sky-high boots, pumps, sensible shoe laced walking shoes, velcroed trainers, socks/no socks. A surreal disembodied moment.
Soon, however, a sea of concerned faces replaced the legs. Anonymous hands poked and prodded to ensure that nothing major was broken, voices full of concern asked penetrating questions about my state of health and mind. I was raised gingerly to my feet and guided gently to a street bench, thoughtfully provided by the Melbourne City Council for just such an event.
The kindness of strangers did not stop there. Copious wads of tissues were provided unstintingly by my minders in an effort to stem the copious flow of blood from my nasal regions. It seemed to me even ordinary pedestrians going about their lunchtime business contributed to the supply.
An ambulance was called. A lovely lady fished my mobile from the innards of my bag and under muffled nasal directions managed to call my son, reassuring him that nothing serious had happened to his mother but could he come as quickly as possible? A kind gentleman bought a bottle of cool refreshing water tasted with difficult ecstasy under the wad of tissues.
Their concern for me was palpable. My new-found community of ‘good Samaritans’ did not immediately disperse with the arrival of the aforementioned son (“Geeze Mum, what have you done?”) or the ambulance (the paramedics’ thorough check ensuring there was no serious injury). We had been bonded in adversity.
There is no shortage of Good Samaritans in our society. My fall from grace happened within a few short weeks of Black Saturday and its subsequent outpouring of emotional support and practical help from ordinary citizens. There can be no doubt that there is a deep reservoir of goodwill and generosity in the populace.
It seems however that there is a limit to how much suffering we are prepared to accommodate. Professional workers and volunteers coping with disasters great and small, local and international, talk of ‘compassion fatigue’ a switching off from the ongoingness of suffering, the implacable messy aftermath of tragedy.
Jesus in His parable of The Good Samaritan stressed the continuing care of the victim, to ensure his full recovery, despite the inconvenience/extra expense that entailed. Is this not what we as Christians are called to do, above and beyond being civil-minded citizens? To endure and persevere as good samaritans even when the ‘feel-good’ aspect of our helping experience has dissipated?
Illustration: The Good Samaritan by Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918)
Elizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.
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