Leigh Sales is a prominent Australian journalist. She is uncompromising in her interview style but clearly has a soft heart and is affected by many of the stories she presents.
In her latest book Any Ordinary Day (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books) she grapples with people’s reactions to severe trauma – death of a close loved one, siege, exposure, flood, bushfire and illness. Everyone will experience suffering and death but are the unexpected events more life-shattering than those for which there is time to prepare?
Leigh interviewed Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney after his young wife died. Along with other interviewees, he stressed that people should stay in contact with the bereaved. People can feel awkward; they don’t know what to say and worry about saying the wrong thing or not being meaningful but Michael urges us to make the effort. He also suggested the framework for this book: using case-studies for an anecdotal approach, based on “academic papers for context”.
One of Leigh’s interviewees is Louisa Hope, a hostage in the Lindt Café siege. This remarkable woman had already come-to-terms with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Whilst scared and angry, Louisa drew on her faith in God to grow from these experiences. This was difficult for Leigh to accept but she shows her integrity by opening her mind to Louisa’s view.
She also interviews Walker Mikac, whose wife and daughters were slaughtered in the Port Arthur massacre; James Scott who survived forty-three days in the Himalayas with only a chocolate bar; Juliet Darling whose husband was killed by his son; Stuart Diver whose wife died in the Thredbo landslide; and Hannah Richell whose publisher husband died in a surfing accident. Hannah explains the difficulty of returning to ordinary activities a few weeks after a death. Outsiders are back in their routines and expect the bereaved to start recovering. Even shopping can be unbearable. She reminds us to continue to open our hearts and love people.
Almost all of the people Leigh interviews draw on unexpected reserves of resilience to become stronger and eventually have more joy than sorrow in their lives despite their natural underlying sense of loss and pain. Few wonder “why me?” because they accept that they are not a deliberate target of their circumstance. Everyone is vulnerable.
Leigh Sales has also experienced loss and trauma. Her empathy, and the empathy she finds in others is inspiring. In Any Ordinary Day she comprehensively explores grief and suffering, ostensibly making a sobering read. But her findings about resultant strength, resilience, hope and the kindness of people make this book a highly recommended and easy-to-read resource for both the distressed and those around them.
Leigh Sales will be speaking about her book Any Ordinary Day at the 2019 Sydney Writers Festival in May.