A pro-tip for anyone interested –
Turning into an ugly blubbering mess when you first meet one of your heroes is an excellent way to establish a good impression. Forget whatever people told you about a firm handshake and good eye contact. This is the way to go. Better still, only have one tissue, and make sure that tissue is filled with croissant crumbs which make it all the way down your dress as you’re a blubbering mess.
Trust me, I’m a professional at this.
The reason for this is that almost a month ago, I met one of my Hope Heroes and I just about fell apart with the above.
In June, I wrote briefly about meeting Allan Sparkes OAM CV and never did I think I ever would. But heyo! I did.
We meet thousands of people in life, but unless you have an incredible memory, nobody remembers every single person that they meet. I sure don’t. Only this weekend, I had an awkwardly long conversation with someone who I neither recognised nor remembered. As it turned out, I went to pre-school with her daughter.
Then there are others: those who change your life. The reasons why they change your life differ. Meeting Matt Kean MP and Julian Leeser MP got me engaged into politics and helped me establish my love for Mental Health advocacy and Government. Meeting David Citer helped me to work through my Bipolar 2 Disorder, helping me to live another day, another year, another life. Meeting Rowan Kunz threw me into the world of entrepreneurship and start-up, and changed the way that I see the rapidly changing world around me.
Meeting Allan Sparkes has been one of these pinnacle experiences.
You know that moment when you read a book, and then you see the film and the film is exactly what you had in imagined and you are so overwhelmed by the experience of seeing your dream become a reality? When I sat down at the breakfast for the NSW Government Graduate Program on the 9 June this year, I had no idea that I would have such a transformative experience.
I read The Cost of Bravery when it came out. A copper with PTSD, and one of the five Australians given the Cross of Valour? Right up my alley. But the book was different. Allan’s journey is nothing short of spectacular; taking us through key moments of his life and policing career, I became a witness to some of Australia’s most newsworthy events, but I have also been swept along in what it meant to be to actually be there. Looking through Allan’s eyes, I saved a young boy from certain death, but I also felt the terror and anguish of staring death in the face.
But most remarkably, I found hope.
We rarely hear the story of suicide survivors. In fact, in the mental health industry, we rarely hear good news.
Earlier this year, I gave a workshop with the NSW Law Student Society at UNSW on mental health initiatives and, in giving my story of law school, I wanted to focus on the positive – that I’ve come through employed, mentally well and optimistic about the rest of my life ahead of me. But finding the positive? Let me tell you… it was hard. I wanted a motherhood statement to let the attendees know that there is a future for those who seek help.
This slide took me two hours of searching. No single organisation, law-oriented or general mental health, could give me recent (i.e within the last 3 years) statistics on the percentage of those who recover from mental illness relevant to Australia.
This was one of the very few statistics I found. As it seems, the Mental Health sector is mainly doom and gloom when it comes to presenting statistical date. It is mainly oriented on those who suffer, not those who survive.
Stories in the mental health sector rarely show hope in the future. Reading The Cost of Bravery, I saw hope in a future, and an incredible future at that, and meeting Allan on that cold morning in June solidified that belief.
I’m paraphrasing, without the power of storytelling that Allan has (honestly, you MUST see him speak!). During Allan’s treatment, he envisioned a boat upon an open ocean, just sailing calmly. That morning, we were privileged with seeing that. During his journey with the Sunboy, Allan recorded a sunrise upon his boat, swaying upon the expansive ocean, his family asleep in the decks below. His moment, his place.
Of course, the waterworks – I burst out crying, with crumbs galore across my dress.
I, for my whole life, believed that only I had had one of these moments of realisation and sanctuary. Mine had always been cold winter’s night, standing in a deserted city of souls, embraced by the buildings around me with nothing but the whispers of the darkness to keep me company and the rattles of a tram cluttering and clanging down the line in the distance.
Stooped upon my City Bike just a yard from my apartment in Vienna, I slowed to a stop by the bike rack. In the distance, I could hear the S-Bahn’s familiar squeak down the corridors of this beautiful ancient city. The lights barely lit the streets and the snow layered thick upon the cars and the streets and hardly any footsteps interrupted the night. A dog barked in the distance somewhere once or twice. A window slammed shut. There, I was completely alone, and content. Like Allan, I was lucky enough to capture this moment on 5 January, 2016.
Like Allan, I was lucky enough to capture this moment, 5 January 2016.
I had my moment. The moment I knew that everything was going to be alright. For me, it has always been an intensely private experience, one where I retreated to at the darkest of days.
And Allan, in all his love for the world, shared his own moment with me.
Speaking to Allan privately… He has a way. When you speak to him, you are the only one who matters. Nothing else is as important as the moment he speaks with you. There is so much love and sincerity, a love for the world and everything you mean to it. It takes someone incredible to do that, to make you feel like you are a welcome protagonist of your own world, not just renting space in it. He listens. He is present. He is there. It takes someone so special to be that person, and he is that person.
I met again with Allan today to introduce him to the work KYDS Youth Development does, and to invite his interest to be the guest speaker for the annual Colours of KYDS Luncheon this year. I didn’t cry this time (THANK GOODNESS), but in his wonderful way, he showed us knowledge of a scattergun industry and shared with us intimate parts of his journey. He never ceases to amaze me with his generosity and insight, his compassion and his empathy. The world needs more people like Allan, a person who dares to give back so much.
In life, we meet people who we remember forever. Allan is definitely one of them.
The Cost of Bravery