Liberty, equality, fraternity.

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Reuters: Jason Reed

Last night the Sydney Opera House was lit up in the colours of the French flag to show our solidarity with the people of France in the wake of the violent attacks in Paris yesterday. The French flag was flown on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many other iconic buildings around the world were also lit in blue, white and red.

The Tricolour and the show of support for Paris made me think of France’s national motto: Liberty, equality, fraternity (liberté, égalité, fraternité).

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 defined liberty as being able to do anything that does not harm others; equality, in a judicial sense, as the law being the same for all, all citizens being equal in its eyes; and fraternity as being about community and harmony.

They are wonderful values to continue to embrace. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “Free societies like our own, like Australia’s, like France’s will not be cowed by terrorism. No matter how shocking.”

Sometimes the world IS shocking, with all the conflict and increasing episodes of terror. So how to live in a world where such terrible events happen?  With compassion. There are public battles on a grand scale. There are people’s own private battles. All we can do as individuals is to be kind. Because as the old saying goes, everyone is fighting a battle that you may know nothing about.

Horrific events such as yesterday’s serve to remind us that we really have no control over anything external. It’s very easy to feel helpless. but we can have control over ourselves. If we want to affect change in the world all we can really do is start with ourselves.

As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world. As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as in being able to remake ourselves.” The idea is if individuals change how they think, they will change how they feel and what actions they take. And so the world itself will change. Well, it’s a starting point.

I was feeling particularly negative about the state of the world last Christmas, only 10 days after the siege in Sydney’s Martin Place where 18 people had been held hostage, resulting in the deaths of two people. The Christmas sermon at my local church reminded us that even when there is darkness, misery and terror in the world, we can still be surprised by joy. It made me feel a little better.

Surprised by joy. It’s an idea that I cling to in times like these. I am praying for the victims, their families, and for peace.

A rainbow of compassion after the storm.

The lead up to Christmas is always a flurry of shopping, social events and school-break-up activities. But Last Monday December 15, Sydney stood still and held it’s breath.

What I thought and felt over the next 24 hours as the Sydney siege unfolded and came to it’s brutal conclusion has been echoed in countless blogs, websites and newspapers.

By last Tuesday evening I couldn’t listen to the news coverage anymore. But I realised that as bad as I felt, it would never begin to compare to the feelings of the families and friends of the victims, barrister and mother-of-three, Katrina Dawson, and Lindt Café manager Tori Johnson, the surviving hostages, and to those who were actually in Martin Place that day. I took two Panadol and told my sick headache and my nerves to “suck it up, princess”.

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird told 7.30’s Leigh Sales, last Monday was one of the most difficult days of his life. “I mean, we watched. Can you imagine what it was like to be there? Can you imagine what it’s like to be the family members of the victims? We can’t,” he said. “What words can you even offer to people who are in that situation by way of comfort?”

But Mr Baird said the families and survivors must know they are “not alone – there are millions of people across this state and country that are saying to you ‘we are right beside you’.” The many notes accompanying the thousands of floral tributes will be bound and given to the grieving families. No, it won’t bring them back, but it’s something, just to know that other people are thinking of you and your loved one who has gone.

The Sydney I know and love is generally a harmonious city, buzzing with the energy of hard-working people trying to live a good life. That’s why we were so shaken by the terror that penetrated Martin Place, a major artery of the lifeforce of this magnificent city, on an ordinary Monday morning in December. A morning coffee is so relatable, so ordinary – it could have been any one of us.

Thousands of people from all over Sydney have visited Martin Place in the past week. Premier Baird told the 7.30 program, “It’s just so beautiful down there – it’s the people, it’s the stories, it’s the families. Complete strangers, hugging in tears, putting down the flowers, reflecting on the loss, the thankfulness in some respects of the hostages that are still with us, and an overall sense in this city we will get through this.”

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Journalist and former Foreign Affairs staffer Tim Mayfield writes on the Drum website that far from dividing us, this event has brought us together. Tim writes about the best way to honour the victims.  “As we mourn for the victims of this attack and their families, let us ensure that December 15 comes to be known as the day that Australia was changed for the better. The day that we chose to demonstrate to the world, and especially those that would seek to do us harm, that we are a confident, positive, outward looking people who refuse to be turned against each other in the face of adversity.”

I heard US writer and inspirational speaker Mastin Kipp speaking in Sydney last week. His book Daily Love: Growing into Grace speaks about the pain of being human and how trauma can be turned into power, through grace, that higher power that shines from within us all – we just have to find it. He spoke of visiting Martin Place when he first arrived in Sydney and seeing all the flowers, the people, and how the overriding feeling there was one of love.

Sydney has shown grace in the aftermath, illustrating community spirit and harmony, with the embracing of #illridewithyou on social media. There has also been mateship, with complete strangers offering hugs to console strangers in Martin Place. This rainbow after the storm is Sydney at it’s best.

For the families and friends of the victims, especially the three children who will grow up without their mother, they have the compassion of a whole city. But they would rather just have their loved ones back. Whatever rainbows may emerge for the families of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, this event has changed the course of their lives forever, and for the children, changed who they will become. But maybe in some small way, it will help that we remember them. The family of Katrina Dawson has said that as well as support from family and friends, “…we also feel that we have been surrounded by the warmth of a city and a nation…”

Katrina Dawson’s family has established the Katrina Dawson Foundation in her honour. It will focus on the education of women, something that was very important to her. As the Foundation’s mission statement says, “… it is our hope that out of her (Katrina’s) senseless death we will, through the opportunities the Foundation will provide, bring meaning to the lives of other amazing young women.”

Tori Johnson’s family, has also set up a website in his honour, the Tori Johnson Memorial Fund, with contributions going to Beyond Blue. A statement on the website says Tori always believed in helping others and taking a positive approach, so his family felt that Beyond Blue was a fantastic cause to support in Tori’s name.

Last Saturday evening’s Carols in the Domain was another opportunity to feel some community spirit. In a statement issued before the event, executive producer Michael Mackay, counted the Carols event amongst interfaith prayer services in Sydney and social media support as another way to bring our community together.  Mr.Mackay said of the event, attended by Premier Baird and Lindt Café staff members, “We see this as our most important Carols in the Domain ever”.

Sydney did indeed bring it’s compassion to Carols in the Domain. Over 80,000 candles were held in the air as a tribute to Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, for the first song of the evening, You Raise Me Up. We stood united in compassion. Let’s never forget the grace Sydney has shown at this time.

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Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas.