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It's Not that Hard
by Susan Johnstone
Not For Sale


Let me say straight away, that my title is not about the time we had dinner at Dad’s place and the recently prepared cheesecake was in the fridge - not very set - but because I love cheesecake, I ate the sloppy mess and even went back for seconds. Strangely enough, nobody else was fighting me off for their share. Needless to say, the cheesecake wasn’t that hard.

But, no - this little story is about something completely different.

I was sitting in the Farley Street piazza last week, enjoying an afternoon nibble on some bakery items with my 6-year old and toddler. As we sat, the sparrows darted in amongst the camellia bushes behind our benches. The afternoon sun glinted on the ‘Dingle-Dangle Tree’, as we like to call it. (It is a sculpture of the Roll-up Tree that used to exist in that spot, where the locals rolled up to be involved in protests and listen to whatever soap-box spruiking was being done.)

Mister-Almost-2 went over to the water bubbler and as is his custom, threw his sausage roll on the ground so he could have both hands free to grab the edge of the metal stand. I got there in time to apply the 10-second rule (or the 10-hour rule, if we’re at home) and rescue the sausage roll in one hand while lifting him in the other hand. Such a talented mum I am, I pressed the button just so to direct the water up his nose. After Mister-Almost-2 had inhaled enough to sate his thirst, we wandered back over to the benches and completed our food.

It was then I noticed a woman carrying a variety of bags, while also pulling two wheeled suitcases. She lowered her load to the ground and stood erect, stretching and feeling the freedom of her released burden. I watched her finger the handles on her bags reluctantly as she stared off into the distance. I figured she had walked up from the bus depot and was heading for accommodation. I wondered what I could do to help. Would she need a lift? Did I have room in the car with the kids in their seats and a boot full of shopping as well? Probably.

There are many ways to load junk in our car, and we’ve tried most of them, including the day we had to deliver boxes of veges before heading off to the Stanthorpe Show. With the boot jam-packed, we had to stow a vital piece of child transportation – the pram – on the roof of our car. The Subaru doesn’t have roof-racks, so we just tied the pram down with occy straps and drove carefully. I don’t know if that’s legal, so let’s just say, we may or may not have been traveling on public roads.

Meanwhile, back at the Piazza, the tired-looking woman still stood, contemplating her journey. I went over to her and asked where she was headed.

“The Central Hotel,” she told me.

You’d think the Central Hotel would be in the centre of the main street, right near where Central Motors used to be – but no, as I peered through the branches of the tree on the footpath edge, I discovered we were across the road from the Country Club Hotel. Not being much of a drinker or clubber, I can’t reel the names and locations of the pubs off the tip of my tongue. And out of five pubs in town, why would three of them start with a C? Come on now, people, there are 26 letters in the alphabet you can use.

So by standing beside the woman and staring in the same direction I could make out the sign of the Central Hotel (one block past the Commercial). That didn’t seem too far… for me, without any luggage at all, that is.

“Would you like a hand?” I offered.

“Sure,” she responded. I called the kids over and wondered how this would work, me carrying some bags and not being able to hold the hands of my little ones. But like well-trained sheep, they trotted along beside us and we made our way up the two blocks to the hotel.

My new acquaintance told me where she’d come from and the circumstances of her arrival in Stanthorpe. I assured her she was fortunate she’d missed the Apple and Grape Festival the previous weekend, as all the accommodation would’ve been booked out for sure. Our mini convoy made it to the Central Hotel and I stayed long enough to see that this lady was welcomed and received by the staff at the hotel. What would happen after that, I didn’t know. I wished her luck.

So that was my meager attempt at being a Good Samaritan. I relate this story, not to have my friends pat me on the back or give me a Mickey Mouse badge. I think, though, that it made me wonder: Why don’t I do this more often? It really wasn’t that hard. It took maybe 10 minutes out of my clearly hectic schedule of eating apple turnovers in the Piazza. And there was virtually no risk. But still, there were those seconds of doubt.

The seconds when I watched the woman and debated in my mind whether I had the resources to help. The seconds when I assessed her, based on appearances. Would she reject my offer of help? Did she need my help?

But really, does it matter? It often doesn’t hurt to ask, and yet so often, because we don’t have a written invitation to step into someone’s lives for a brief moment, we wonder if we are interfering. If it is any of our business.

Surely, there are very few instances when it would be offensive to offer someone help. Like when you might say, “Excuse me, but I think your comb-over is flapping in the breeze. Would you like me to pat it down for you?” Or, “I see you have a couple of bats in the cave, if you get my drift. Would you like a tissue, or…” And you know what they say – You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose. (So remember that.)

There’s a story that gets shared at times like these. And thanks to the beauty of the internet, it gets copied and changed and plagiarized and I really don’t know what the origin of the piece is. In one telling, there’s a young boy and an old man, in another, it is someone who meets an American Indian elder. I’m not sure, but there’s probably also a version that includes an old clown and his youthful but ambitious understudy.

Basically, it goes like this:

While walking along a beach, Person A (a man/boy/ambitious clown understudy) saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he came closer, he saw thousands of starfish the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the ocean during low tide, the starfish were dying. He observed Person B (a young man/old clown/wizened Indian elder) picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the water.

After watching the seemingly futile effort, the observer said, “There must be thousands of starfish on this beach. It would be impossible for you to get rid of all of them. There are simply too many. You can’t possibly save enough to make a difference.”

Person B smiled as he continued to pick up another starfish and toss it back into the ocean.

“It made a difference to that one,” he replied.

It’s heart-warming, touching and yet does not descend to mindless sentimentality. The message affirms that each day I can find simple ways to make a difference, and as I discovered the other day, it’s just not that hard.

originally posted on my blog, 13 March 2012

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