Australian Wisdom – an Oxymoron

Australian Wisdom – an Oxymoron

On Monday night we attended a beautiful wedding in Hadera, North of Tel Aviv. We arrived from South Africa Sunday morning, spent a glorious day in Jerusalem and then drove up to Hadera Monday, stopping past Raanana en route. I was in magnificent spirits having spent a very cold Shabbat at the tail end of our winter in Johannesburg. Nothing could get me down. What’s more, I was about to see good friends I hadn’t seen in some time, and that for me was always special.

Until I saw Ari. “Food good in South Africa I see,” he said on spotting me, whilst patting my midriff. I was certain that he meant that indeed our food was good in South Africa, with all that biltong and stuff, and not that I has ballooned since our last meeting. No one would be so crass. Could they?

I paused and looked at him and asked him to repeat what he had said. So he did, again patting my mid-section which by now I was sucking in as best I could (clearly not so succesfully). And I knew then that even his awful Australian accent could not mask what he was saying. He was calling me fat. He was calling me very fat. Rarely on the back foot, I looked around the room and realized that “thin was in” for the men at this function. Skinny emaciated and gaunt, the war had certainly taken its toll. No food in the bomb shelters, I thought, or the woman had eaten it all, as they didn’t seem to share this trend (aside from one New Yorker who was very clearly very weak from not having eaten carbs for the last 6 months).

Truth was that a few months prior I was pretty thin but with two criminal attacks within three months of each other and a case of severe PTSD, well, lets say that I refocused, or didn’t as the case may be, and found myself to be a good 10kg more covered than I was. Very much on the back foot, I started to explain my descent into obesity to my accuser, who also told me that I should get a personal trainer. When I explained that I have had for 7 years he pondered if it was me or the trainer who ought to be more ashamed. The sympathy card normally works and I was anticipating a look of real regret when he understood the severity of my situation. I could not have been more wrong and his reaction was quite the opposite. “What a load a crap” he said, “ you chose to live in South Africa! Everyone there gets robbed all the time” (please read in garish Melbourne dialect) “I got no sympathy for you mate.” And that was that. I was fat, I was wasting my time at the gym and I was robbed because I chose to live in South Africa. The fault was mine.

And I wondered if the lout had a point? Of course we will never be speaking again so we can’t discuss it, but if we were, should I be admitting that even-though he looks unnaturally and unpleasantly thin, that I had made choices that had impacted me and that I deserved no sympathy whatsoever? Do I hold the responsibility of being robbed at gun-point (twice) as I had made the decision to return to South Africa after living abroad for five years? Did I get what I had coming and have I lost the right to any form of empathy?

It is clearly a very dangerous and ultimately unproductive route to follow, as so much of what occurs is seemingly as a result of decisions and choices we have made. Cause and effect are often so confusing and opaque that determining anything with absolute certainty requires confidence that only an Australian can possess. And deciding what does and does not allow for sympathy is not a judgment I am prepared to make.

A close family friend always says that one should picture that on everyone’s foreheads are the words, “Fragile, handle with care!” and they should be treated accordingly. “Wise words indeed”, I thought, as I went to get my second helping of the chocolate soufflé, which was really superb.


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