It was at least a few days or maybe a week later, and Benny’s approach still resonated quietly and sometimes coloured his viewpoint on the occurrences around us.
“I was near the corner of my street and the main road, just making my way down to the main strip of shops, and had to edge my way passed a huddle of students with their big bags, laughing and craning to see one guy’s phone and what must have been a new video or meme or something. Then I heard a loud voice coming from behind, or that sort of surprised and pained yell someone makes when they hurt themselves, just back behind the distracted knot of teens.
“Looking back around them, I could see someone had fallen over and was sprawled half over the footpath and the concrete gutter, her legs and bag still on the road between some parked cars. She’d obviously hurt her arm and was crying and holding her wrist, and it seemed she had tripped or lost her footing somehow and landed heavily on the pavement. Another guy was rushing to help from a few metres up the road, and he got there before me. When I arrived it looked like a shoe heel had given way, as one shoe was off and its long heel folded forward. I couldn’t do much, and the other guy was helping her up to sit on a milk crate that was nearby, but I brought her the bag, and me and this other guy looked at each other — we were both sort-of grimacing, in empathy with her pain I suppose.
“He asked if she thought her wrist was broken and she said she felt like it was her forearm but wasn’t sure if it was broken or not, so I said I’d call an ambulance and she was okay about that, and told me her mobile number to give to the emergency operator.
“So it was all being dealt with, and this other guy seemed to have the situation under control. But the one thing that stuck in my mind, as all this was going on, was the reaction of the group of students. After a glance back, most of them just went back to their video viewing or whatever it was. Only one kid lingered, looking on at the scene behind them, but then, incredibly I thought, brought his phone up and took a picture.
“The complete disinterestedness coming from this bunch seemed almost unbelievable, and what little attention came from them, as shown by the brat picture taker, came across in my mind as showing an indifference to other people that was almost toxic. What’s wrong with these idiots? There are real people going through some real experiences right here under their noses … and they’re focused on a distraction, on some stupid temporary nothing.
“It bothered me all the rest of the way, and later when I was walking home I came back to the same spot at the side of the road, and the place was re-transformed and back to its everyday appearance and habits. But in the middle of going over the scene again in my mind, and again being flummoxed about the huge indifference that played out, it occurred to me that I’d been mixed up in something like that. And only recently. Only it wasn’t indifference that tuned me out to the real world, but a sort of angry fixation; a rummaging through issues that belonged in the past, and going over what happened, and maybe what should have been said and done.
“It was just about a stupid argument, or really a disagreement that got out of control, between me and another guy in our general group of friends. It was a year ago and I haven’t talked to him since. Anyway, you know how you just go over things sometimes, especially if you’re left to your own devices for some reason. Well one day last summer that was happening… I was just running through the circumstances, and feeling a bit put out that I was dragged in to it all.
“But this is the kicker. This is what made me realise today that I’d been in a similar place before, of non-connectedness, because of where I was while my mind was re-lost in that past aggressiveness.
“It was a hot day and a few of us had been swimming at the beach for most of the afternoon. The rest had made their way home to get ready to go out, but I decided to hang around. It just felt too comfortable, me on the towel, lying there with my head resting on the bag with my clothes and wallet in it, looking out on the afternoon into the west with the sun heading for the watery horizon. It was also really nice with my feet in the water, the sun going down, the day still warm and the sun relaxing faster now. It was so low in the sky you could almost look at it now if you squinted, and if you kept it in view you could see it move. And then it sank to halfway disappearing, then kept sinking, further down, and finally plinked out behind the edge of the sea, and it was twilight.
“But do you think I really saw this? No. I was too absorbed in a stupid re-living of a time when I felt aggrieved to take any of this in at the time; too absorbed in these other past moments to appreciate what was in front of me. When I woke up to this, that perfect warm end to an afternoon at the beach was more of a re-call than a direct experience. I could have kicked sand in my own face.
“There was also that time when a few of us were in this pub in the city. There were pokies in the main bar, where we were waiting to meet some other people and having a beer in the meantime. And nearby, behind us, one woman was seriously feeding her dollars into this machine, almost punching the button, sometimes tapping the screen where she wanted a certain image to appear which I assume would give her a win, and not even waiting for that spin to finish before hitting the button again. The rest of the crew arrived and we made our way out, and as I walked behind the desperate gambler I glanced at her screen and saw that she must have fed about $600 into it already. How the hell could that be ‘fun’? She must have been so keen to have a win and yet all she could do was keep losing. I didn’t know if she could afford it or not, but that’s not the point. She was losing a lot of money, but her craving for winning cash just led her to lose more of it.
“So I knew that this could happen, that you can be re-directed from things you’d be better focused on by stupid inconsequential diversions, and be blind to something that should really be getting your attention. So there was this indifference seen in the street just before. And there was a sort of anger or aggressive attitude as well, even one that re-surfaces from the past. And there can also be a consuming craving for something that blinds you to what might really be going on.
“I made myself a promise to watch out for these toxic situations, for myself and also, if I could, for anyone else around. It seemed to me that even just realising your attention could be tainted by these sort of stupidities would be enough to become the change-over you need to transform your view back to reality. You could even arrive at a much better point of view, just because you kept this in mind.”
Okay, so here was Benny boy, at the point I had assumed he would head for. Maybe this was one of those lessons that could be reinforced and shared, breathed in and breathed out.
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