I know that to you, little indigenous boy, I was just a tourist on a café table, conveniently positioned at a cross street in Cairns, laughing and eating a veal schnitzel. After calling my husband to discuss flight possibilities due to the impending cyclone, I’d just taken a photo of the crocodile steaks listed on the menu, to send to friends in Italy and the US. My phone was in a bright orange case, and it was sitting next to my hand almost too perfectly. We were the last table at the corner café. So you grabbed it and ran. I tried to run after you, but you got ahead, and crossed at the lights and I was caught, watching you, behind a stream of traffic. You disappeared.
You could have been anyone. Phone snatching is up 400% in Britain, it is rocketing in India, and as many as 2000 phones are taken every week in Australia. I understand that my shiny iPhone 5 was just one of the overwhelming objects your generation have to deal with every day. Shiny cars, shiny shoes, shiny smiles that seem to make this beautiful land and its people fade into some foggy distance. I know that shiny tourists stream into Far North Queensland carrying shiny objects, and to you, I was just another one of them. It wasn’t personal. I don’t know how many shiny things live at your house, or how many family you have with you there. I don’t know if there was dinner served on the table that night.
I have to be honest though – I stood on that crossing on Aplin Street and I cried, not for my phone, but at the thought that white Australians will think this is a race issue. That it might seem that the recent advocacy I’ve done is a sham, a lie, because in the end, indigenous kids steal. What you didn’t know, is that I was online talking with an aunty in Sydney only seconds before you grabbed that orange phone. I had posted an article about boys like you, taking their own lives in record numbers. You didn’t know we were talking about you. You didn’t know I was sitting with local aunties and uncles all this week, listening to them evaluate their community-building and leadership, hearing their wins and their losses, watching their eyes alternatively light and fill up, and talking about indigenous teens and preteens just like you. You don’t know that I have read about your world with tears in my eyes for years. Or that I was praying for you, long before our eyes met in that brief moment.
You see, I am a spiritual person, just as your aunties and uncles would say you are. My faith is an ancient one, passed down from Jewish hands to European villages, carried on boats to distant islands. And, I believe the Spirit that breathed life into this land is the same God that chose to come as a little, Jewish indigenous boy just like you, living on the edges of the empire of a Roman Emperor. God Himself, crucified on a cross, rising again to declare an end to the pain and alienation between you and me, the haves and the have-nots, between sharp white noses and brown, wearied shoulders. This event was a line drawn in the sand, that broke history in half.
This is not a spiritual thing. But yet, it is. And I want you to know that the hope of this faith was intensified in the groaning sheds of Virgina, sung across white cotton fields where thorns pierced black hands and drew red blood. It was carried by horse to a small yellow house in Los Angeles, where African-Americans lifted loud voices up to this God, their pain transformed. This fire was echoed on the Welsh moors, and it endured months upon boats with impudent Irish men in chains, carried within pages of anonymous bibles, to land here on this earth, where it had already echoed so long, long before. It was given to me here upon this soil. And while the proud white preachers took it for their own, and bellowed judgement upon you, this faith continues its way along rivers and deserts, singing its way up the coastline. I don’t know if you believe this story with me, but I do know that 73% of your Australian indigenous nation says it does. So I can only assume there are aunties praying on their knees for you, grandmothers weeping for you, mothers and fathers hoping they can give you the life they dream you can live.
When you took this phone, little boy, you didn’t know what you were doing.
You thought you were just taking a phone, but I prayed for you, that you have grabbed my blessing. All good things come from God – phones, mango trees, and the distant lights in the night sky. So, I pray the great blessing that I have received upon you. I pray it overtakes you, it under-girds you, it overshadows you, and it overwhelms you. I have had an amazing life, and I am blessed. So, I pray that you also receive this from God, and that it sticks to your hands long after you drop my phone. I pray you find yourself in front of thousands of people, with no other reason than that God opened the door. I pray that you travel widely, and eat many foods from distant lands. I pray many hands grab you, and hug you and tell you that you are beloved, simply because you are you. I pray you learn to use your voice, and that when you sing and dance, the nations stop and watch. I pray you stole my privilege. I pray you grapple with all that means. I pray that you use it wisely, because you will one day be judged for your actions. I pray that you learn what it is to be a man.
You could have been anyone, I know that. But I am grateful it was you. Because now, you have touched me and my life, and yours will never be the same. Every time I think of you, I will pray.