Currumbin. Wednesday, 1.40pm
Let’s face it; some people don’t do sad. Oh, they do regret, disappointment, righteous anger – they may even feel shocked over a photo of a hurt child that pops up on their phone – but they don’t do sad. It’s too much.
Luckily, a cheerier meme will soon replace the child’s photo, and a momentary happiness will submerge the despondency, like a rising sea does an island.
But sadness should not be denied.
It is with me now as I stand in a cage where different types of Australian parrots perch on dead tree limbs. It’s a big cage. The birds can fly a few metres until a wire wall stops them.
It really is quite a big cage. As well as parrots, in this enclosure are a Chinese family taking selfies with a parroty background, a group of Japanese students taking photos of… everything, a big bleached mother with tattoos on her arms, pushing a child in a pram and talking to a bigger bloke with Coke, cap and reflector shades looking down at his Samsung. And me.
The ability to avoid sad is probably an evolutionary coping mechanism. Over generations, people who are not prone to sadness have survived (thrived, even), have happily made money through exploitation, have married other successful sadness-deficient people and have thus produced children who carry this genetic sadness immunity into the future.
The parrots are colourful. They sit on their clipped tree branches, as still as tawny frogmouths. Which is weird. Because they’re not tawny frogmouths, which will perch as still as tree knots. Stillness is what tawny frogmouths do. But not parrots.
I have parrots regularly fly into my place under the cliffs at the end of the world like a carousal of noisy teenagers. They’re garrulous and rowdy, a rainbow storm in a tree. They flit about – fighting, flirting, feeding. When the parrots hit town, look out, it’s a party.
But not here. Here and now, they’re mostly still, their calls few, their colourfulness an irony. This collection of parrots, taken from different parts of Australia and all detained together, is sad. It triggers a greater sadness in me. I let it do that…
I notice one parrot standing at the base of the wire wall, looking out through the mesh to a pair of noisy miners larking about, squawking and skitting from tree to tree. The parrot stands and looks, its only movement is its head turning to each new sound of the outside world.
As the world is flooded with mobile phones, so is it flooded with information, much of it awful. You know the litany: refugees, war, climate change… To survive in such a world is tricky. It will break our heart. (It breaks mine.) So we eschew sadness. We desperately hunt out happiness. We hunt for it in relationships, in money, in religion, in drugs, in stuff.
We escape from sadness into a virtual world where cute memes are sprinkled on our life like hundreds and thousands on a stale cake, where bombed villages are as real as talking cats, where happines is as close as Paypal.
Yeah, being immune to sadness may shield you from the woe of a cruel world; from the melancholy of your own mortality, but it denies you life. Sadness is not disease, depression or character defect. Sadness is seeing. Sadness is caring. And caring is human.
I leave the parrot cage (unlike the lonely parrot, I can negotiate the gate) and walk into light. The noisy miners are hassling a magpie as it flies towards the kangaroo enclosure. One tries to nip the magpie, but the magpie nips it instead, giving it a fright.
That makes me laugh.