What next?

I was feeling really despondent, moody and lethargic today. It’s the day I woke up and found out two innocent lives were taken by a crazed gunman who held more than 40 people in terror at the Lindt Cafe on Martin Place.

My heart was heavy. As I walked along my usual route to Central Station, I felt everything around me was happening in slow motion. I was wondering, how many of these people were thinking exactly the same thing, were feeling the same thing as I did? No matter how you rationalise it, no matter what anyone says, nothing can take back the lives of the two individuals who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Let’s not forget the trauma that the surviving hostages went through, a moment in their lives that they will never forget, but I hope time will heal.

Where were you when it happened? What I didn’t tell my family and friends who were worried sick about me was that I was very, very close to the ‘where’ and ‘when’. I was just coming back from a meeting with a colleague and, at around 9.45-10am, we were less than 100 metres away from where the siege was happening. Like many City workers at the time, my colleague and I were getting our morning coffee, a ritual of sorts on a Monday morning, at the MLC Centre across the road.

We didn’t know it at the time. We only found out about it when we got back to the office and saw it on TV. We were informed about it by the building manager under an email addressed “Terrorism Alert”, stating that a police incident was happening at Lindt Cafe on Martin Place and that we were advised to stay indoors. A couple of hours later, entrance to the building required security cards as an extra precautionary measure.

Like many Australians, and the rest of the world, my eyes were glued to the ABC news updates and my Twitter newsfeeds. In between the horror of the events unfolding, a ray of light came in the form of a hashtag that went viral: #Illridewithyou and, around the same time, a Facebook entry about Australia’s sense of mateship was circulated. Both social ‘movement’ assuaged fears that there will be a public backlash against Muslims (wrongly so) and that racism will rear its ugly head.

The next few days will be just as heavy, and as more information come to light, there will be a lot of discussion on what could have been done to avoid the situation. My opinion remains the same, this was not the fault of the judicial system and this was not the fault of the police: the fault falls squarely on the gunman who was mentally unstable and had a record of being violent.

A big part of me is shaken by this. I come to Martin Place all the time. My bus stop is only a minute away from Lindt Cafe. Everybody knows that the quickest way to Kings Cross station is through the entrance to the train station right across the cafe. My friend’s sister works at the cafe next door to Lindt. Most people walk along Martin Place to get to the Domain and the City Library. Many people also walk along Castlereagh or Elizabeth to get to Pitt Street Mall. All of these were small details I never thought about. Today, the thought of going anywhere near Martin Place, a landmark in the city that I’ve crossed a thousand times, filled my heart with sorrow, grief and … yes, a nervousness I’ve never felt before.

But I know that what I’m feeling is a normal response. That it’s a kind of survival mechanism to stay away – for now.

Like most people who work in the City, what happened has made me more aware of my surroundings. That I’d be looking over my shoulder for signs of anything suspicious. And right now, we are a city in mourning. A country in mourning. Grieving for those who were caught in the madness of one man.

I was never of the belief that Sydney isn’t vulnerable to a terrorist attack. There is no city, no country in the world that is safe from extremists. Life is fragile and unpredictable. Some things, big or small, are outside our control – including what happened yesterday.

Rest in Peace. Photo by CBC News.

A sign of respect. Photo by CBC News.

But what is under my control is how I react and behave. And it goes back to appreciating what I have – my way of life, my family and my friends. Today, I cherish what I have. Today, I am grateful to live in a country that values democracy and freedom. The momentum behind the #IllRideWithYou campaign proves that good can prevail. That we are far stronger than those who want to inflict pain and terror on us.

I will continue to mourn for those who lost their lives but I will not live in fear. I take my strength from my fellow Sydneysiders, and those who share our grief, who understand that real power is not the ability to commit an act of terror. Real power is the ability to act with kindness, understanding and compassion in times of tragedy like this.

Rest in peace, Tori and Katrina. We will never forget. Our thoughts and prayers go to your family and friends in this time of grief.