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Kindness Never Goes Unrewarded

Updated: Jul 21, 2021

As you get older, you start to notice things. Activities that never caused you concern, give you grief. Your figure changes, and with it, your health. Your vision deteriorates, you bump into furniture, and you trip on the bathmat.

Weeding the garden never used be an issue, but now you find aches in places that never seemed to exist before. And then, there's the GP.

Once upon a time, you were just another faceless 15 minutes to your general practitioner. Now, they know you well enough to have a friendly chat. And it's not just a chat about how you're doing, generally. They sympathise, because they're getting older too. Hec, you might need to find someone younger!

When I was in my early twenties, I had a "straight-up-and-down" figure. I found a photo of me as my sister's bridesmaid, and couldn't find any bumps that let on that I was female! But, now, they're everywhere!

When I was even younger than that, I had a couple of vision impairments (myopia and astigmatism), which were corrected in 2013 by PRK - a type of laser surgery. That revolutionised my life! In one simple procedure, I went from wearing two pairs of glasses a day, to wearing none. I could go in the surf, if I wanted; or jump out of a plane, and appreciate absolutely everything.

Mary-Claire doing a tandem skydive, above Fiji.
Flying over Fiji

I remember jumping out of that "perfectly good airplane" in 2008 in Fiji. The weather had been fairly bad and there was no guarantee I'd be allowed to do the jump, but just as I arrived, the skies began to clear. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew that I wanted to go along for the ride!

As we get reached 7,000 feet altitude, my instructor, who was an Irishman called Ronan, asked if I wanted to go all the way to 14,000. I thought, "You only live once", and, "I may as well; I might never be here again", so I said yes. We shook hands on it, and watched as another tourist took off out the plane's door with her instructor.

When we reached 14,000 feet altitude, it was time for us to walk on our backsides over to the door of the plane, and leave the pilot to his own devices. It was a bit tricky getting out of the plane, as the joggers on my feet seemed too big for the space I had to climb through to take that leap of faith.

I had to wriggle myself to the open door, with my skydive instructor securely strapped behind me, and then step out of the plane. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds all round, but all I could see were my joggers stuck on the metal frame.

I found my footing on the leg of the plane, and did what I was instructed: I let go.

The feeling of peacefulness, that enveloped me, was something I have never felt before or since. We floated over the earth, and looked down at the brown waterways snaking through the green island, and the vast sea. The sky had never been so big ... I could almost touch the clouds.

When I got home to Newcastle, I showed my parents the DVD of my skydive. I didn't tell them that I had planned to jump, because I hadn't planned it at all. I had actually got free accommodation for 3 nights, and bought the flights without making much of a plan. The night I'd arrived in Fiji, I collected pamphlets from the concierge desk, chose which ones appealed, and popped in to the concierge at 6am to ask her to do her best to book me in to any of my choices. I'd be happy with whatever she could organise.

After breakfast on the first day, the concierge had me booked into a lovely sea voyage to another island, where I enjoyed a kava ceremony and lunch, a massage on the beach, and my first ever scuba dive. The second day, she booked me into a bus trip that took forever, to a white water rafting adventure (in an electrical thunderstorm, no less). The third day, was my last, and I wanted to do the skydive but had to wait for the storm to pass. So, you could say, I jumped out of that plane on a whim!

I didn't tell my parents that I'd jumped out of a plane; I just showed them the DVD, while I sat behind them, so I could see their reactions. My poor mother, who always had a morbid fear of heights, turned to me and asked, "Why?", but I'm not sure what Dad thought. Maybe, he smiled to himself with a thought of wonderment?

For about a month after, I thought I might learn how to skydive solo, and looked into it, but life got in the way. I hadn't seen that DVD again until today, and I saw myself smiling the whole time. I was so relaxed that my head rolled back onto the chest of my instructor (alright, so he wasn't a bad sort). Our landing on the beach was textbook perfect - I landed on my feet, like I was born to it. It's a testament to my instructor's ability.

There was someone to help when we landed, and I admit that the contact hurt a bit, but I didn't need a hand to help me up. I landed on my feet, and stayed upright. Which brings me to the reason I started this post.

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking along Beaumont Street, Hamilton, and as I stepped off the curb to cross Tudor Street (at the traffic lights with 5 male pedestrians), I looked forward to see a traffic island in the middle of Tudor Street. I put on my brand new glasses (because I have recently been diagnosed with glaucoma with slight vision loss). I got to the traffic island, and tripped right over it!

I landed on both my knees, both my hands, and my forehead hit the bitumen on the road, on the other side of the traffic island. My bum was up in the air, and thankfully, I was wearing track pants! All this, despite the fact that I had a premonition seconds before I stepped off the curb! I knew that if I put those glasses on, I'd trip over that traffic island!

All those nice men stopped to ask if I was alright. One gentleman put his arm near me, and said, "Take my arm, I'll help you up", and I let him lead me to the opposite side of the road. He asked if I was hurt, and I said that I was more embarrassed than anything but thankyou, and we went our separate ways.

I got to my car, and broke down once I was inside. I felt so old, so frumpy, and so clumsy. Oh, and so stupid! And really, I was, because I didn't respect my intuition!

The days since have given me pause to think, and I've realised that this wasn't the first time I'd "had a fall". I was 19, and walking to the train station on my way to work in Milsons Point, and slid onto my backside, the first time. I took weeks off work. Another time, I was in my twenties, and slid on the painted stripe of a pedestrian crossing in the rain, on my way back to another job after lunch. The last time was in 2014, when I was walking to work with a colleague, and faced her as she was speaking, as we stepped off the curb to cross. My heel connected with the join of bitumen and concrete, I went over, and broke my ankle. All these incidents caused pain, and time off, but weren't serious. And not once, did I think of myself as old, as "having had a fall".

The point is, we don't fall because we're older.

We don't have injuries because we jump out of planes with very experienced skydive instructors. We fall, and get injured, because we're human. Sometimes, we get sick and injured because we've placed ourselves in tricky situations (or because someone else has put us there), but generally, we do all we can to stay safe and healthy, and stuff just happens.

We do our best to make our workplaces, schools, and homes, our neighbourhoods and sports venues, safe. So the first thing I want to put out there is this: don't feel old, or frumpy, or clumsy if you "have a fall". Just do what you can, and accept whatever help is there for you (ask if you need to).

And secondly, the world can be a nice place. People can be kind and compassionate, and still are. And I want to thank all those lovely people (including those who've helped me over the years) who have held out a hand, put out their arm, offered a shoulder to cry on, shared what they had. Your kindness will never go unrewarded.

We've had a few disasters in the past 18 months (in Australia, that includes a drought, fires, floods, a mouse plague on top of the usual cane toad infestation, and the coronavirus that is still with us). What I've seen throughout all this, is that people will lend a hand to their neighbours as well as their friends, and to strangers as much as family.

If we've shown each other anything, it's that there's hope for us all, yet.

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