Saturday, May 3, 2008

Inspiration through tragedy

About 6 years ago when I was mid-way through my MA in Journalism, an inspiring young woman - Cynthia Banham, who had done my course a few semesters before me came into our feature writing class to give us an overview of what it was like to work as a real journalist.

She had transitioned from a fully practicing lawyer from freelance writer to a reporter on one of Australia's most respected newspapers - the Sydney Morning Herald. I followed Cynthia's work ever since, because I completely admired how she decided she wanted to be a journalist, and then worked her butt off to become one - on a top paper no less.

Last March, I remember reading in shock, about how Cynthia had somehow made it out of the horrific plane crash at Indonesia's Yogyjakarta airport that claimed the lives of 25 people including 5 Australians.

Cynthia suffered horrendous injuries, including the amputation of her legs, and after what must have been an incredibly long, painful and emotional recovery, she began to write again for the Herald.

This lady has such tremendous courage and a determination to push on - she's now the Herald's diplomatic editor, a huge achievement for a journalist in normal circumstances, let alone after such a life-changing tragedy.

I noticed a story in yesterday's Herald called A friendship forged in tragedy, about how Cynthia had recently met Gill Hicks. Gill survived the London bombings in 2005, but was so badly injured by the bomb blast that her legs had to be amputated below the knees.

Five months later she made international headlines when, on prosthetic legs, she walked down the aisle of St Etheldreda's Church in London on her wedding day, just as she'd planned to do before the bombings.

The article is a wonderful example of human spirit - of two courageous Australian women who are learning to move forward in a life without legs.

Like Cynthia, I found huge inspiration in Gill's perspective on life.

"Our physical selves have changed, but we are alive," Gill told me. "It's important to be here and to, I think, make a difference to everybody's life who comes across our paths and to value life in a very different way, because we've had a great reminder that it can all be taken away in a breath, and not only taken away permanently but it can be changed in an unimaginable way.

"By no means am I saying I wouldn't turn the clock back because I would without hesitation - but that's not a reality and the reality is that we're here and it's about what we do now."

When I read stories like this, I'm reminded of how easy it is to take things for granted, and how easily and quickly life can change - for the better, or for the worse. But as Gill says, its about what we do now, in our current reality, that's most important.

*NB, Picture is copright of the Sydney Morning Herald

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