Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

Perspective

Perspective

Cleo Newling

Year 12

I was alone in my bedroom when I first heard. If you've been in a plane, looked out the windows as it takes off, you might understand how I felt. The ever-changing map, the network of streets, roads, highways, the capillaries, the pulsing veins and arteries of the city. The houses, square roofs of brick red, grey slate and concrete tops hoping to scrape the sky. The muddied greens and trampled yellow grasses of the parks, ovals, gardens, steadily shrinking to nothing as you ascend. Life became a blur through my teary eyes. I couldn't read on through the cloudy haze, but it didn't matter. I didn't want to keep reading. I couldn't keep reading about the Christchurch attacks.

There is little relief from tragedy when you have a supercomputer in your pocket. And in the pocket of the person next to you. And her mother and father, her brother and their neighbours. Your mother doesn't understand how to use it. Maybe she still refers to the internet in its plural form. In such close contact with these outstandingly ordinary obscenities, we are all united in knowing the woes of the world. I notice the way we know. It's in the eyes, and the dark circles beneath them. They are darker.

I don't have to think about what matters to me. I can just feel it, bleeding out into the page in front of me when I put pen to paper. I remember, in a darkened room of red plastic cups and complaining neighbours, where to talk, you must shout, to move, you must elbow. The music was loud enough to drive the idle wisps of conversation from my mind. No one had anything in common, but everyone came together at the opening notes of Bohemian Rhapsody. An anthem for every generation, the unexpected yet universally beloved anachronism uniting a swaying crowd of ordinarily acrimonious adolescents. Toward its end I remember one line that stood out in that moment. Many, in varying stages of near collapse, continued in priestlike devotion, in all shades of the wrong key, “Nothing really matters to me...” Freddie's breathy voice was a prayer that seemed to momentarily vanish our troubles. I am at peace, I thought. I closed my eyes and saw the Notre Dame in flames.

A better word for plague is torment. It's been on my mind for months now, the moments I'm left alone at parties, silently gazing out car windows, vacantly walking home from school. It's become difficult to fixate on the mundane. It used to be easy to live week by week thinking only of Shakespeare plays and DNA, criminal law and watercolour portraits, occasionally lifting my head to check the weather outside. On the holidays, my friend tells me about Sri Lanka. It seems something earth shattering must occur for people to remember what matters to them. Everyone has to have realised, we often forget to buy flowers for our friends until the occasion is their funeral. But I'm tired of being reminded of what is important to me. Again and again, with every tragedy I feel myself holding on to it all a little tighter, waiting for the plane to land. To stop clenching my teeth, tapping my feet under the desk, digging my nails into the palm of my hand, I must find perspective. Do I throw my phone into the sea, never to hear another word of news, good or bad? Do I carefully catalogue every disaster? Or do I lie in the grass, waiting to hear something, watching the clouds as airplanes fill the sky.