There was an outbreak of lack of perspective in Canberra this week. I heard a lot of people with public profiles talk about what’s wrong with this city. One person even went so far as to say that Canberra’s crime rate rivalled that of Detroit or Mogadishu. What’s extra funny about that is that this week Lonely Planet rated Canberra the third best city in the world to visit. And which city was in second place? Detroit!
I don’t know if it was because I spent the week listening to people moan about their actually very fortunate life, but I caught the bug and lost perspective too.
I was dealing with a few annoying things, such as long hours at work, unexpected and expensive car repairs, a dead possum on the roof, a difficult conversation with a family member that needs to be had, and I let them blow out of all proportion until I started to feel that life was hard. I was near to tears this afternoon when I went to meet my sister, who’s in town for a few days.
We met at a beautiful restaurant/bar in a building that’s won awards for its design and eco credentials. We ate delicious, unusual food. We were well fed and sheltered and looked after. I mention that because my sister’s just been in Cambodia, where every day for a week she helped out at a charity that provides food for school children. Kids who otherwise wouldn’t eat a proper meal now get a substantial lunch. On Saturdays the volunteers pack up rice, omelette, soup and stirfry and take the food out to the villages where the kids live. They started off by serving 100 people on Saturdays. Now they feed 700. An Aussie who volunteered at the food charity started a spin-off organisation that, among other things, pays for kids to go to school and stay in school.
My sister brought me some gifts from her trip. One was an iron fish, developed as a way to combat anaemia in Cambodia. Putting it in the pot when you cook rice or broth is an easy way to add iron to your diet. As someone who suffered from anaemia for the first 35 years of my life I know how debilitating it can be, and I lived an easy, middle class, Western world lifestyle and had access to doctors who eventually worked out the cause of my deficiency. Holding this solid iron fish in my hands reminded me how lucky I am to have access to good, affordable medical care, how lucky I am to have the means to buy and grow food that sustains me.
The second gift my sister gave me was a tin star made by a man whom the charity also supports. It’s rough and chunky and wouldn’t win any craft or design awards, but I’ve hung it on the lounge room wall as another reminder of just how good life is.
We finished our meal and walked to the car park. As we stood chatting, I glanced at a couple nearby and realised that I knew them. We’d met in Wollongong years ago, but now they live in Thailand, in a community that offers meditation, meals, creativity and friendship to anyone who shows up. They live on a shoestring and they’re devoting years of their life to people who need their help. As if talking to my sister about her experiences in Cambodia wasn’t enough, bumping into those two really rammed the point home. I got my perspective back in spades.