Anne here, in a pensive mood. Every now and then I come across a story — real life, not fiction — that moves me in some way, and I store it up, like a squirrel with nuts against a bleak winter.
Because if you were to believe our world is like the world-as-seen-on-the-TV-screen, you'd think it's a pretty bleak place. The news, focusing on death and disaster, violence and despair, the entertainment shows focusing on murder, corruption and violence, balanced only by bubblegum sit-coms and earnest talk shows. I don't know about you, but I've almost stopped watching TV. Because that view of humanity is just so skewed. And it's depressing.
Sure, there's poverty and violence and despair — but there's also a lot of goodness, and kindness and everyday bravery around. It just doesn't show up much on TV. I suspect that's why romance is such a popular genre – it's life-affirming, positive and can give people hope.
Anyway, this is not going to turn into a rant about why romance novels make the world a happier place — it's my birthday and so I want to share with you a few of those little nuts of goodness I referred to at the beginning of this post. Three examples of ordinary people shining a little beacon into the dark.
The first is just a small one — a very sweet story I came across at the Melbourne launch of the Georgette Heyer biography by Jennifer Kloester. She told this story of a young Australian girl, Ro Marriot, who, during WW2 became terribly worried that, with food shortages in Britain, her favorite author, Georgette Heyer, might be going hungry.
Ro and her mother wrote to Georgette Heyer to ask if she would like them to send her food parcels. She sent back a very kind letter saying she was perfectly all right and Ro and her mother were not to worry.
But Ro knew about the famed British Stiff Upper Lip and felt sure that Georgette Heyer was exhibiting it. So she and her mother sent Georgette regular food parcels anyway, until well after WW2 was over.
This is Ro now. She was in the audience at the book launch and I grabbed this not-very-good photo of her after the launch.
For the last ten years or so, Luis Soriano has been working in poor, remote communities where children were more familiar with violence, conflict and the drug trade than books and reading. Luis began visiting communities, traveling from village to village, taking books with him, teaching reading and leaving books with the children (and their families.) On his next visit, he'd collect those books and leave some more. His first portable library started with a collection of 70 books, which he carried on a burro — a small donkey.
It became known as the biblioburro or the book burro. Word has slowly spread and now the program is famous. And Luis Soriano has brought books and knowledge to hundreds of children and their families.
The third story is about a cellist called Vedran Smailović. Never heard of him? I'm not surprised. I first heard about him as a side story in a documentary on Joan Baez. Vedran Smailović was a fairly ordinary guy until he responded in an extraordinary way to an act of terrorism. And no he didn't turn vigilante like a hero in the movies. He did something much more wonderful.
It was 1992, and Yugoslavia was falling apart — bombs, shells, unspeakable acts of violence, neighbor against neighbor and the beautiful, highly cultured city of Sarajevo had become a war zone.
At 4pm on 27 May, a mortar shell landed in the middle of a long line of people waiting to buy bread— most of the bakeries in the city had been destroyed. In a flash, twenty-two people were dead, and many more injured, lying among the rubble created in the explosion.
Vedran Smailović, who lived opposite, was as horrified as you might imagine. He was appalled by the event, and enraged by what had become of his beloved city. He ached to do something, anything, to show his profound opposition to what was happening.
But he was just a musician, a cellist who played in a string quartet and orchestras. What hope did he have of making a difference when madness had taken over his world?
The morning after the mortar attack, at 4pm, Vedran Smailović took his cello into the street where the attack had taken place. Dressed in a formal suit, as if for an orchestral performance, he set up a camp stool in the middle of the destruction, took out his cello and began to play. Countering violence with music.
A small beacon of hope in a sea of dark misery.
For the next twenty-two days — one day for each person killed— at 4pm he played his cello. He played Albinoni's Adagio in G minor. You can hear it here, and see some photos taken of his city before, during and after the siege.
At first people thought he was crazy — the siege of Sarajevo went on regardless, but as each day passed, his determination, his music and his quiet courage became a symbol of hope to a beleaguered city.
He played every day for more than a year — until December 1993. He played on, despite further shelling, bombs and mortar attacks. He played in the rubble of formerly beautiful buildings, ruined homes and churches.
A magnificent response, isn't it? There's a superb article telling his story here — I've given you just the bare bones.
So there you are — three very different stories, ranging from the small and sweet to the magnificent, but each telling the story of how a single individual acted, following their heart, to make something better. I hope they've given you a smile.
There are hundreds more of these inspiring stories, of individuals making a difference, sometimes on a large scale, sometimes on a very small scale. Feel free to share them. Or tell us what your antidote is to the doom and gloom so often found on the TV.