real life

"My cousin was facing a very sad birthday in lockdown. Then I mentioned it on a podcast."

We talk a lot about the toll of lockdowns on children. On parents. On teachers. On those who must work from home and those who cannot work at all. 

And rightfully so.

It is impossible to determine who suffers the most in lockdown, a futile competition that ends with everyone yelling at each other. With Victoria in the midst of their sixth lockdown, and parts of New South Wales entering their 10th week, our compassion, it seems, is wearing thin. 

At least that's what I thought before this week.

Before I mentioned, in passing, my cousin Simon.

If Simon were to enter the futile competition that is Who Is Having The Hardest Time During Lockdown? I reckon he'd have a real shot at a medal.

Simon lives in South-West Sydney, which is currently under some of the tightest lockdown restrictions in New South Wales. Although fully vaccinated, Simon has pre-existing health conditions that mean he would be at risk if he caught the virus. As a result, he can't really leave his house much. He also lives with an intellectual disability.

I'm frustrated by lockdown, but at least I understand it. And I accept it. 

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Simon, though, cannot understand. He can't leave the house, and he doesn't really know why. 

We've explained it to him, of course. Disability support workers have done an incredible job of explaining to Simon and others in their care the seriousness of what's going on. But Simon's disability is such that it won't ever, really, make sense. 

When we speak on the phone, Simon begins every conversation with the same three words. 

"Not long now," he says hopefully. It's phrased like a statement but I know it's a question. I repeat it and then we speak vaguely about a few more weeks, and what we'll do as soon as he can enter the world again. 

Then, a few weeks ago, he reminded me his 36th birthday was coming up. 

Usually for his birthday, we go and see a musical. Our extended family will go out for dinner and Simon will get a ridiculous amount of presents. This year that wasn't going to be possible.

So on last Friday's episode of Mamamia Out Loud, in a segment where we talk about our best and worst moments of the week, I said I felt sad for Simon. Our family wanted to make his birthday, which was coming up on Wednesday, special. I told listeners how I'd asked Simon what I could send him in a box, and he kept repeating 'takeaway coffee'. For context, during last year's lockdown, when the rules permitted, I would drop him a takeaway coffee on a Saturday morning because, like me, coffee is his favourite thing in the world. But now with a five kilometre radius in place, I can't even do that. I also said that all he wants is to go and see a musical because... obviously.

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All weekend, the messages from Out Louders rolled in.

If you want to hear more about Simon's story, listen to Mia's No Filter interview. Post continues below. 

Many said, "Just Uber Eats him a coffee!" which for some reason I hadn't even considered. 

Others said, "Not sure where Simon lives exactly, but I live (insert place) and if that's within five kilometres, I can drop him a coffee."

By Sunday night, I had a message from Lucy Durack.

Lucy Durack, for anyone who doesn't know much about musicals, is theatre royalty. She played the lead role in Wicked and Legally Blonde, both of which Simon thoroughly enjoyed. 

Lucy wanted to know if Simon might like a personalised video from her for his birthday. She actually asked what his favourite song was, and if she couldn't perform it, she insisted on finding the right person who could. 

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Well. It turns out Wicked is one of Simon's favourites, and you better believe he got a special song from Glinda herself. 

By Wednesday, Simon was completely spoilt. He got his special takeaway coffee (and banana bread), a bunch of gifts, a cake, a video message from Lucy Durack, and Mamamia sent him the biggest delivery of lollies etc. you've ever seen. He got tickets to Hamilton in Sydney (we live in hope) and we had a Zoom call that he got sick of after about half an hour and like... same.

But the Out Louders weren't finished. 

In our Out Louders Facebook group, one woman decided to crowdfund a gift for Simon from the Out Louders. A coffee machine. By the time I saw it, they'd already raised more than enough. Now they're talking about theatre tickets and vouchers, and their generosity has been astounding. 

It's not just Simon who has been the beneficiary of community-led kindness this week.

The town of Wilcannia, which has a population of around 745 people, has recorded 82 COVID-19 infections, with hundreds more close contacts under isolation orders. 

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For a small town, with only one grocery store, the impact has been devastating. Food has been in short supply. There is only one ventilator. People who have tested positive are isolating in tents. Wilcannia has a large Indigenous population, who are more at risk, and most of whom have not been vaccinated. 

A GoFundMe appeal on behalf of the local Aboriginal community controlled health organisation, Maari Ma, has, in less than two weeks, raised more than $300,000. Australians have donated from all over the country. 

People have donated food hampers and water, with local volunteers distributing donated goods and funds. 

More needs to be done in Wilcannia. More vaccinations. Certainly more protection. But when given the chance, Australians wanted to help.

Sometimes it can feel like maybe we've mined the depths of our compassion. How much more pain and loss can we take, big like Wilcannia, and small, like Simon's birthday? 

What I learned this week, was that the bottom of that mine does not exist. People continue to dig, and dig, even when their own lives are tough. 

We want to make a difference. We want to make the world a little better, in whatever way we can. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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