Ballina. Thursday, 2.35pm
He’s a young bloke from a city far away. His life is based around study, that will secure him decent employment. That makes sense. Of course. A good job is everything. Support a family. Have a house. Maybe travel. A good job means having stuff, means survival in a mean world. Worth the sacrifice now.
This is the mantra of his life: Study hard; get a good job. This aspiration assumes our lifestyles, social structures and environment, created from 10,000 years of stable climate and still dependent on predictable weather, will continue pretty much unchanged. Business as usual.
Even as a child, bathed in the love of his family; even as a teenager, trembling with life; and even as his teenage years slipped into the bow wave of looming adulthood, the mantra sounded, its stricture weighing ever more on him as he grew, its weight an acknowledgement of its importance, he guessed. That’s what a man does.
But, here and now, there is the boy. He stands at river’s edge, in that space in between, on sharp rocks put there by men defying change. A smile glints at an approaching seagull squadron. He mimics the birds, squawking and flapping his arms. The gulls, unperturbed and undeterred, hang in the air near him, motionless, riding the racing wind. They sense chips.
‘I’m glad I’m not young,’ the woman beside me says, smiling as the young bloke flaps to another rock, seagulls following.
This morning, she and I watched the sunrise. (Sunrise watching is a Ballina habit of mine.) We’d walked out into the sea along the north wall in the pre-dawn light, past silver surfers pushing into perfect waves, overtaken by joggers with ear plugs, and overtaking older people with really clean sneakers.
Then, there was a miracle. The sun was born from the ocean, thunderclouds parting, fingers of light touching all of us.
I throw a couple hot chips near the young bloke, predictably creating a seagull storm around him. He squawks and laughs as a few birds manage to grab a few chips before the chips slip between the rocks. Mostly, though, the chips are ungettable. Some seagulls leave for the RSL.
I know what she means. We talked about it this morning. An awful reality hangs over us. People will suffer in a climate-changing world. Jeez, they’re suffering now, but it’s going to be worse in the future. I’m glad I’m older.
Some scientists say it’s already too late. Others dare not. Tipping points have been predicted and passed. The process is unstoppable (they say).
Can this really be true? Government ignores it, so it must be true. What should I do? What should the young bloke do? Does he know? Is he wasting his time tying his life to social values that are irrelevant, to activity that is not helpful?
I throw more chips at the young bloke. A chip lands on his head. Oh no! A hovering seagull sees it, tips starboard and dives…
Okay. If we must face that (possible) reality – that it’s too late – then, at least, we may get through the grieving and rediscover, even if for a limited time, what really matters in the shared and short lives of us. (It ain’t mortgage and Netflix, I reckon.) That’s a positive. Maybe truth will liberate us. Maybe we will live better when we acknowledge the awful reality. And maybe another miracle will happen. I live in hope.
Still, I’m glad I’m older.
‘Me too,’ I say back to her.
The young bloke slaps the chip out of his hair. It disappears between the rocks. The raiding seagull abruptly adjusts its flight, brushing past the young bloke’s ear.
Laughter bounces between we three, across the river and out to sea.