He is a rare breed; loves footy but cannot give it away. Last week, his biggest concern was the ‘young fellas’ at the club who are not getting to have a normal year of eighteenth’s and twenty-first birthdays; a COVID impactor. Turns out of course, we were not the only ones thinking about this.
Former CEO of Macquarie Bank, Bill Moss interviewed in the Australian on the weekend and he felt that the effect of the virus on the lives of young people will be significant and lasting. Evidently, he is uniquely qualified to know the impact of life changing events. He was known as a bit of a sage, a predictor of trends, in his time in banking and consequently rose to prominence. Meanwhile he was, and to this day, coping with FSHD, a form of the muscle-wasting disease, muscular dystrophy.
Significant events have always shaped generations, he cited World wars and the Great Depression. He suggested that we don’t know the impact on those in their formative years.
“This will change young people. It will change the way they think, if they can’t get a job, they can’t go overseas, if they can’t enjoy the same physical contact that we have taken for granted, that changes them. We don’t know what it means, but we do know that it means something.”
As if often the case when you are aware of certain ideas circulating, one becomes attuned to similar sentiments. Recently, I was drawn to another from overseas. Essentially, a friend was waiting in line “like a good German” at his bakery. It was a long and boring wait for his Brötchen made even more agonising by the old lady in front of him who decided to have a massive yarn with the baker. Slightly peeved – as Seinfeld would say – he edged closer than the recommended 1.5m to try and get the message to the baker that he was ready to order! By shortening the distance between himself and the old lady, he was able to overhear her quiet conversation.“You know, I was born 1936, under Hitler.”
At this, he realised his Brotchen could wait.
“We were starving. And we went through hell. I remember everything very clearly although I was very young. And then…, came the Russians.” There was a long pause. “But I have come to terms with all of that since.”
After gently bringing the conversation to an end and guiding the elderly lady out of the shop, the baker thanked our storyteller for his patience and even threw in a free Brotchen to boot. Shamed by his earlier petulance he walked from the store with his own realisation – “REAL GLOBAL CATASTROPHES CAN HAPPEN. THIS ISN’T ONE.” His capitals, not mine.
I am not going to make any such claims or statements or try to pass my experiences during Corona virus as universal or even significant. In a nutshell – it’s been weird. School has been busy. I have made some mistakes and learned some new things. My park is jam-packed, there are kites flying, training wheels are coming off left right and centre, and my one year old can kick a footy like Jason Dunstall.
Coming back though, it has for some reason, made me more attuned to stories that may or may not bear comparison to the apparent crisis we are currently experiencing. Richard Fidler was interviewing Magda Szubanski for Conversations on Wednesday afternoon last week. In her typically charismatic and funny way she was telling the story of her relationship with her proud and loving yet tortured and tough, father. As a young man of 19, he was a proud idealistic Polish Nationalist who joined the Polish execution squad. In his roll he executed traitors – Gestapo officers and their Polish collaborators. His story is one of bravery, of hiding Jews, fleeing through a sewer and finally being liberated by Russians from a POW camp. This of course was all before he landed, no doubt penniless, in Australia.
But, at the heart of Szubanski’s understanding of her father was the guilt that he not only carried, but also passed onto his daughters for his job. You hear the word Gestapo and immediately you cannot help but think they deserved what they got, but nothing, of course, is that simple. At nineteen, a child, he may not have realised the emotional consequences, but evidently, it haunted him later, and it had a profound effect on his daughter.
Trauma or crisis can place weight on generations. In 2006, I spent my Christmas Holidays – the first of my teaching career – in Europe. I spent the best part of week in Germany and it had a lasting impact on me for many reasons, namely, the bizarre modern history of the Nation, the Weiss Bier and the mood of the people. I was talking to some locals in Munich and I noted that everyone seemed to me to be in such a great mood. One of them explained. I will paraphrase, but it essentially went as follows.
We hosted the World Cup this year and it was amazing. We made the semi-finals and the country was alive. People could see what a great job we had done as hosts. It is the first time in our lives that it is ok to be proud to be German. They were young people, born thirty to forty years after WW2, and yet the life shaping ordeal of the parents and grandparent had been passed down one way or another to their shoulders.
Now all these stories and ideas can paint a bleak picture but let us not get too carried away. Largely, we are lucky. Lucky to live in Australia where the impact of Corona has been minimal by global standards. Lucky that soon, normalcy will return for our young people. I think that individually and as a College, we can emphasise the positives of this time – extra time with family, a chance to be independent in our learning, a chance to innovate and adapt.
History tells us that this time will leave a trace; maybe, before we all return to a routine life, we will have chance to ponder what we have learned. And maybe, we should go for one more kick at the Broncos, but this time, make it on a school day.