Today, it snowed in the Blue Mountains where I live. Today has been marked by commemorations of the first anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, and the murder of everyone on board. Today, wattle blossom was for remembrance.
Among those killed was one of my old high school teachers in Geraldton, Western Australia. Nick Norris, or Mr Norris as I knew him, was well-liked by his students, captain of the school cadets, and well known to all when I was a teenage boy at Geraldton Senior High School between 1971 and 1975.
He was not one of my regular teachers, but I well-remember a day when he stood in for a teacher in a class dealing with human relationship and sex education. The bogans at the back of the class were creating their usual disruptions when he called the ring leader out to the front of the class and gave him the opportunity to share with everyone his knowledge of the venereal diseases that he had been telling his mates about in the back row.
Seeing one of the school bullies red faced and fumbling for words was one of those delicious moments that remains forever in the minds of every school boy and girl who has been subjected to a school bully. At that moment, when the power of a bully crumbled before our eyes, Mr Norris became one of those heroes never forgotten. He showed us that bullies can be stood up to. He gave us back a power we thought we had lost. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will remember.
That Mr Norris, all these years later, became a victim of the most vicious and invisible of bullies, makes his death even more meaningful. It exposes the awful violence at the heart of nationalism, and through this tragedy we saw the tragedy lived every day by the poor people living among the sunflowers. That his death was shared with his grandchildren and so many other people on that plane makes their loss even sadder and more hurtful. But, as the commemorations today have also shown, neither Mr Norris nor any of the other passengers and crew are forgotten.
Vale Mr Norris and everyone else murdered on that awful day over the sunflower fields of Ukraine. Your presence will live for a long time yet. You were, and will always remain, a true champion.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness
Only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate
Only love can do that.
(Martin Luther King, 1958)