Just beyond the horizon of a technicolour ocean of blooms, a white figure is bent over. It’s hard to see at first, but if you zoom in, you’ll see her.
A bride placing her bouquet among the thousands of floral tributes to the victims of Sydney’s siege at the Lindt Cafe. A bride wearing a hijab.
My friend Meredith took the photo on Saturday afternoon as she paid her respects at the memorial. She was moved by the sight so she posted the picture to Facebook with the caption:
I just witnessed the most beautiful sight at the Martin Place flower memorial. A Muslim bride and groom inspected the flowers, then she lay her wedding bouquet amongst them. The crowd, who at first were staring and turning their heads as the wedding party approached, applauded as she lay her flowers down. Overwhelming and very touching.
As soon as I saw Meredith’s post, I knew she’d captured something special. I told her I loved it and asked if I could share it on my Facebook page. She said yes. Neither of us knew what was coming……
There have been SO many things I’ve wanted to write this past week. About the siege. About the hostages. About #illridewithyou. About Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson. About their families. About her children.
I didn’t write anything because I didn’t think the world needed any more opinions on what had gone on. We were drowning in commentary.
And then came the Cairns massacre….. To be honest, I never wanted to write about that. I can’t write about that. Literally can’t. My brain has sort of shut down. When I first heard the news, my heart started thumping so hard my ribs rattled. My brain whirred so fast it became white noise. Static. I was just staring at the TV screen like a zombie. Children. Murdered.
When I was a young, childless journalist, I could deal with the death of children. It was just part of the job of reporting horrible stuff that happens in the world. It didn’t really affect me more than any other sad story.
Then I had a baby. And now the thought of eight children being stabbed to death by their own mother is so beyond my comprehension I can’t even think about it. Not by choice, it’s like my brain has gone into survival mode. It’s sitting in the corner of my skull, fingers in ears, eyes shut, singing “LA LA LA LA LA LA…. I can’t hear you!” I’m completely numb about it.
The nation has had a seriously fucked up week. We’re suffocating under a blanket of horror, sorrow and despair. It’s pressing down on the whole country.
I thought this lovely photo of a stunning bride would make a few people smile.
What happened was a little bit more than that…,,
As of this afternoon, the photo has been seen by 835,000 people. It has been shared 1500 times – and that’s just from my page. That doesn’t include the shares that came from other people’s pages. There have been almost two thousand comments….
It’s not the first time something I’ve posted has had a big reaction. My story about gender disappointment made a huge splash when I published it in October. It was amazing to see thousands of people from across the globe respond to something I had produced. I spent days, consumed with stats and comments and accolades. It was awesome.
So, although the response to this post was completely unexpected, I was somewhat equipped to deal with it. My poor friend Meredith on the other hand, is practically catatonic with shock. This is far bigger than anything she ever imagined.
Especially because, well… not all of it has been awesome. In fact some of it has been horrible and scary. (I’ve written a much more shouty post about that here.)
But the really important thing to remember (especially you Meredith!) is that the majority of people have loved this photo. It has given them something positive and uplifting in the wake of yuck.
This is about a really special and thoughtful woman named Manal Kassem. A 23 year old school teacher from Punchbowl who, on a day that’s supposed to be all about her, took time to pay her respects at the Martin Place memorial. This is about a bride who gave away her BRIDAL BOUQUET.
Now, anyone who has ever been a bride (or has known a bride or has been near a bride) knows that you don’t just give your bouquet away. There’s a whole industry devoted to drying, framing, preserving the bouquet. At the end of the night when the bride “throws the bouquet” it’s not her actual bouquet. Are you mad!? That thing costs at least a couple of hundred bucks! She throws a cheap posy made from the scraps of her bouquet. The flowers her bouquet rejected.
It’s no small gesture to give away your bouquet. Manal could have brought along some off-cuts from the florist or a $5 bunch from the servo. But she laid down something much more symbolic that that. She left behind a piece of her wedding day.
Manal also happens to be Muslim. A point which has caused quite a bit of ‘discussion’.
For me, her religion was not the most important factor in this photo. For me it was the ‘thinking-of-someone-other-than-yourself-on-your-wedding-day’ factor. But her religion does play a part.
Her gesture of respect and love has become a symbol for the thousands of muslims who feel the pain of this siege in a different way to non-muslims. They’re feeling the grief and trauma we all feel, but they also feel the fear of repercussions for their community, and a desperation to show that the filth (I have no other word for him) that held 17 innocent people hostage in that cafe does not represent their community or their faith. People like Manal represent real Muslims.
The comments that flooded my page were overwhelmingly positive. I received dozens of messages from people who were thankful to see something positive and loving after a week many of us are still struggling to wrap our minds around.
Manal’s thoughtful and selfless act has brought a tiny bit of light into the darkness of December in Australia. For that, we should all be pretty thankful.
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