When I worked in the Sydney CBD a few years ago I remember the strange looks I used to get walking through the office with a black mark on my forehead on Ash Wednesday.
In the ultra-clean white collar environment I inhabited, the sight of black ash on a pale white head would stop the office traffic.
When I explained the purpose of the mark, to those brave enough to ask, I said the ash was a reminder to us that we will all die eventually and that we need to be prepared.
This response usually spooked out my work colleagues even more!
Death is never a popular topic. In our modern world, we have all become accustomed to advanced medical technology, a strong sense of law and order and safe work environments, so that death is not something we regularly come into contact with so we don’t spend much time dwelling on it.
This tendency is disrupted each Ash Wednesday when we receive ashes and the following words are recited: “Remember, that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
This summer in Sydney, two separate fatal incidents have shaken us out of our comfort zone and have been a time for us to reflect on death, the fragility of life and the new life that can come from death.
In late November 2014, the news of Phillip Hughes’ serious injury as a result of a cricket ball hitting his neck sent shock waves through the global cricket community and throughout the country.
As a former player, I was personally shaken by the incident. Over the years I have hit batsmen in the helmet and had been hit on the helmet by bouncers myself. It never entered my mind that these events could have been fatal until I heard the news about Phillip.
I shared this sentiment with my family and we prayed for him to recover. However, God had other plans.
The global reaction to Phillip’s death was amazing. Cricketers and sportspeople from other codes showed signs of respect through social media or wore black armbands on the playing field.
People from around the world, including me, put out their cricket bats by their front door as a sign of respect. This whole event was an occasion when a group of elite sportsmen, and the broader community, could take stock of their priorities, realise the fragility and sacredness of life so they could live each day of their life with more gratitude than ever before.
On 15 December, the news of a hostage siege in the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place shook Sydney out of its normal pre-Christmas rush. With the CBD in lockdown and the continuous media coverage throughout the day, fear and panic reached unprecedented levels. Many people were concerned for loved ones who worked in the CBD.
During the siege I remembered the occasions I visited the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place to buy some exotic dark chocolate for my wife. This hostage siege had a personal edge for many that felt like an attack on our daily lives.
When I awoke on 16 December to the news that the siege had ended with the death of Man Haron Monis and two hostages, Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson, I was shocked and dismayed.
Despite this ill feeling some positive signs emerged from this siege.
Firstly, the #illridewithyou Twitter hashtag was tweeted by thousands of people from around the world in support of Muslim women.
Secondly, Martin Place became a sea of flowers as a sign of respect for the lives of the two hostages who perished in the siege. These two initiatives helped pull people together in a time of crisis and helped buffer any anti-Islamic reaction.
It gives us hope that violence, terror and death do not have to have the last word and that love can help us transcend terrible events.
As we prepare to enter into Lent 2015 let us reflect on the fragility of our own life and the inevitability of our own death in the light of these recent tragedies in our city.
Let us not despair in this exercise as we draw on our Easter hope to help us see that out of death and suffering, new life, even eternal life, can be found.