Killing and Kindness: Men on the Koonung Trail

March 21, 2015
Kooning Trail - the Community Cathedral of the Cosmos

Koonung Trail – the Community Cathedral of the Cosmos

This week, our city has been rocked by the broad daylight murder of a seventeen year old woman, while she was out walking in parkland along the Koonung Trail.

The place she was attacked and left for dead was on my regular running route. It’s just before the 5k turn around on what I commonly call my ’10ks of sanity’ in the ‘Community Cathedral of the Cosmos’.

I have run here almost daily for over 4 years. I run often in twilight under the extravagant sunsets and finish in darkness. I love it. It is good for my difficult mind. It is good for my aging body. It is good for my wild and wiley spirit. I will not be leaving it. I will not be finding a running partner either.

The shock and grief of young Masa’s tragic death has unleashed a predictable, but tedious back and forth of opinion regarding the ‘safety’ of women. Should women walk alone in parklands? Should women walk alone after dark? Should girls be taught self-defence? Isn’t this patronising to women? Doesn’t this suggestion imply that women are responsible for their safety in ways that men aren’t? Shouldn’t we all be free to walk when and where we like without fear? And on and on and on it goes.

Like many, I have been thinking of young Masa, praying for her devastated family, friends and community.

But I have also been thinking about the men on the Koonung trail. I’ve been thinking about how they are being spoken of. I have been thinking about how they have shared the space with me all these years.

Running in their tracksuits and their shorts, cycling in lycra, walking in turbans and tunics, shuffling in sandals and socks.

I’ve seen them playing footy and cricket with their families, sitting on the park bench drinking in the beauty of the greens of the day and the golds and pinks and blues of evening, running their dog, or waiting by the tap as their fourlegged companion has lapped up the cool.

I’ve watched their elegant arms arc in Tai-chi troupes and heard their adrenalised shouts in Personal Training Squads. I’ve seen them walking together, ensconced in robust debate and exchange, or stepping gently in serenity and silence shoulder to shoulder with a weathered and wrinkled life partner, or stop and roll our their prayer mat facing the east to pray.

I’ve seen them pushing a pram, wheeling the bike of a child or holding the writhing hand of a tentative young first-time skater.

They’ve supervised their kids on the playground, stood by the billabong while their dog splashed in and sent the ducks fluttering.

I’ve seen them sweat and puff and strain as I’ve over taken them, and I’ve seen them strong in stride and soar past me. We’ve waved and smiled and nodded, hi-fived, thumbs upped, and cheered each other as we’ve passed. They’ve stopped and helped me up when I’ve tripped and taken a tumble.

Just last week as I ran on the Koonung trail, I was accosted by a man. I was close to the 8km mark and I was deep in thought, processing my trepidation at beginning a new role in employment. I was questioning my capacity to step up to the plate and put myself on the frontier again. I was feeling marginalised and alienated from my own field of passion and I had been giving God a piece of my mind about this.

Suddenly, several meters in front of me, heading straight for me, was a huge, red headed man in a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt, who began yelling and waving at me. Startled, I removed my earphones to hear what he was saying. In a powerful american accent, he thunders at me, fist pumping in the air:

“Keep going! You’re doing great! Keep running! You’re way ahead of them all!”

And then he had passed…a messenger of hope and encouragement; random, confronting, but not violent, or scary or abusive. Imagine if  it were this kind of story of the way a strange man approaches a woman in a parkland that filled our imagination?

“Strange man stops woman in park and restores her hope”

If we are not attentive and truthful in our talking, we are in danger that  the actions of one man, one day, on the Kooning trail, will eclipse the actions of many men on many days on the Kooning Trail. I know that the newspapers and newsfeeds won’t publish stories of men who watch sunsets, or push prams, or stop to pray or help a fallen runner, or call out encouragement. But the blabber of media around us is not what counts. The stories and truths we tell each other, looking each other face to face, eye to eye, and listening heart to heart, are what really matters.

That is where we must speak of women, not as small and careless and to be limited, and of men not as violent and insecure and irresponsible. And we must especially not speak as if we are afraid of one another. Who is a woman, to be afraid of a man, when she is built for monthly blood and pain as a matter of course and to bear such bodily trauma as might take her life in order to bring a child into the world? And what is a man, that he is so fearful of his own powerlessness that he would seek to harm a woman in order to overcome his craving for power?

And what is man? Is he the one who kills or the many who give kindness? Is man the one coward who takes life, or the many courageous who pour out their lives generously for others.

Although, sadly, we commonly magnify our fears and diminish our faith in one another, the strange ways of Jesus call us to reverse our many cultural patterns. I pray that, in the reversal of a kingdom of ‘heaven’ that is enacted on ‘earth’, it may be so:

our fears switched for faith,

our suspicions for solidarity,

our assumptions for acceptance.

To the many men on the Koonung Trail, whom Melbourne has not mentioned yet this week – thank you for being safe, for sharing the Cathedral of the Cosmos, for being fellow companions and sometimes, surprising messengers of hope.

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