It’s very rare for the Olsen family to have the television on of a morning, but today was the second consecutive day of the school holidays when the screen occupied the attention of the two adults in the family. Yesterday it was Adam Scott’s Masters victory, and today it was two explosions that struck at the end of the Boston Marathon.
After half an hour or so of eyewitness reports, quick press conferences with the Mayor of Boston and President Obama, and phone interviews with Aussies in Boston for the marathon such as Rob de Castella, ABC News 24 brought in their usual sports guy.
After talking about the marathon for a while, he segued: “For what it’s worth, here is the other sports news of today.” After some highlights of various things, he took us to a quick grab from Natalie Medhurst being interviewed on-court after her Firebirds won their match in the ANZ Championship last night. She praised her team for their intensity. I hoped she wasn’t watching. Her comments would have been highly appropriate in their original context, but just sounded pathetic thanks to the other events of the day.
It all reminded me of sitting in Federation Square in December 2010 on my first day of summer holidays. While most of Melbourne busied themselves on their way to work, I found a ledge on which to sit to watch the ABC News that was being broadcast on the big screen. I was there because I had some time to kill: Mrs EPO was at work, and the first day of the Australian Open Wild Card Playoff tournament which I was heading to was still an hour away from starting.
The news that morning was from Russia where there were serious ethnic riots. They became a stunning backdrop to my morning.
As one does on the first day of any break from work, I had already awoken feeling lucky to be alive. The train was filled with commuters while I was blissfully enjoying Sports Illustrated on my way to a day’s tennis where I would see if Alicia Molik had one last chance to make it back to the Open and I could also see this new Barty kid everyone was talking about.
Suddenly, I found myself looking around a quiet Federation Square where a few stragglers were grabbing a quiet drink or snack on their way to work. I couldn’t help but wonder just how Melbourne and Moscow could co-exist at that precise moment. How I could be the middle-class guy who was about to spend his day watching incredibly talented women thwack a ball at each other for a few hours for my entertainment. How those on the television were the guys who were about to spend their days in vicious riots.
“Perspective” is perhaps the most fascinating word that is used in relation to sport. That morning, I knew it was relevant to my situation, but I didn’t know exactly how. Should I see the tennis that I was about to view as being utterly meaningless as people my age in Russia were about to experience and instigate such violence? Or should my experience – exhibited on that day by the ability to peacefully enjoy life’s pleasures after a long year’s work – help to display just how ludicrous, shameful, wasteful and horrific racism and ethnic violence can be?
This morning, my experience watching the coverage from Boston was strangely similar.
The ABC were replaying an amateur video shot in Boston. It showed the smoke rising behind the flags that were flying near the finish line.
As the chaos ensued on screen, a 15 month old walked around the corner into my line of sight and approached me on the couch. He was brandishing a book in my direction. “Hey mate, would you like to read a book?” “YES!” was the ever-so-exuberant reply.
And so, while the amateur video became shakier, I picked up the kid so that he could sit on my lap and excitedly open his book to the first page.
While incredibly brave people ran towards the site of the first explosion in order to help any victims, Hairy Maclary was looking for someone who might want to throw a Frisbee with him.
While the eye-witness being interviewed showed the blood stains on his clothes, Hairy Maclary ran off like a shot after the Frisbee that had been thrown by Miss Plum.
While the eye-witness spoke of seeing and helping people who had lost two limbs from the blast, Grandmother Pugh’s hat flew off into the distance.
As people madly tried to divert runners who were approaching the site of the blast, Hairy Maclary returned with Grandmother Pugh’s hat.
While other people were spending their time desperately trying to find out whether or not their friends and relatives were safe, I sat with my son who pointed at Hairy Maclary on each page, attempting to say “dog” as he proudly found the protagonist.
I was sure that one should be putting the other into some kind of perspective.
I just wasn’t sure which was which.