Reaching out

Published in the Courier Mail 17 Jan 07

THEY say every dark cloud has a silver lining.
The sex fiends attacking women on walking paths around our city are one of the clouds casting a shadow over Brisbane. Their behaviour is inexcusable and we trust that community response and determined police work will eventually see them brought to justice — hopefully sooner rather than later.
The public response to The Courier-Mail’s Walk Without Fear rally on Sunday has shown a strength and determination not to be cowed by fear but to stand strong — together.
Here we get a glimpse of the silver lining — an obviously growing sense of togetherness among women, of looking out for one another.
Neighbours who used to walk separately are now getting to know each other and walking together. Women are starting unofficial walking clubs and taking the chance to exercise safely while enjoying the company of friends.
One of the comments from someone who attended the Walk Without Fear rally was illuminating. She said: “I’ve buddied up with a girl who lives around the corner. I used to see her around, but I noticed she’d stop walking, so we go walking together now. It’s really great and you get a new friend.”
The benefits of a strongly knit community are often missing from our busy commuter lifestyles. Our diaries are full — sometimes too full. Parents log many hours and many kilometres ferrying children from rehearsal to training to recitals. Career couples synchronise to ensure they at least know each other’s schedule even if they don’t share it. University students balance an increasingly difficult mix of study and work. We work longer hours to get more money to pay off bigger houses that require more maintenance. And life continues — and wears us out. Who has the time or the emotional energy needed to make new friends? So we park in our garage, close the door and go inside to continue our activity-filled lives, or simply collapse on the couch.
In times of national prosperity such as that we are experiencing now, so many of us seem to just keep spending, and are generally able to be self-supporting (with the help of a credit card or two).
We feel as if we can generally manage by ourselves, so we are less likely to take that step outside our world and into the world of another.
And we give rise to observations such as those by Herbert Prochnow, a US banking executive and author, who said: “A city is a large community where people are lonesome together.”
But then something happens that acts as a reminder that we need each other.
While no one wishes for a terrible series of events such as those we are facing, sometimes it is these adversities that can cause us to reach out to one another. We become aware of those around us and, maybe for the first time, say hello when passing rather than staying lost in our thoughts.
Just maybe we are remembering — remembering what it was like when we made space for others in our lives and, in fact, needed each other. We listen to that yearning within us to know and be known, to share joy and tears and life itself, with those around us.
Ralph Nader said: “When strangers start acting like neighbours . . . communities are reinvigorated.” It seems the women of Brisbane are doing just that — acting like neighbours, looking out for each other, building relationships — and reinvigorating the community.
As we are reminded of the richness that relationships bring to our life, we are encouraged and energised to nurture them. The walking clubs may develop into a monthly barbecue with their families. The women who team up on the pathways may decide to explore and discover great cafes around the place — perfect for an espresso and some conversation. We may begin to share our hearts, and not just our morning exercise.
Of course, this carries a risk — trust can be betrayed, and friends can let you down. But you don’t let the risk of a sprained ankle put you off walking, because you know the health benefits exercise brings.
In the same way, relationships and a strong community help contribute to our emotional, mental and social health — and it’s worth the risk.
It’s early days yet, and we could still retreat back into an isolated crowd — but maybe not.
We can’t walk alone at the moment — but at least it reminds us that we were never meant to do this journey of life by ourselves either.

Ruth Limkin