Sunday, 17 February 2013

The extraordinary inviolability of youth

Isn't it extraordinary how resilient young people can be? Isn't it also extraordinary how so lacking in imagination they can be? I relate this to the English boy from Richmond who 'got lost' in the Outback in Australia. There he was, on a ranch, miles and miles from anywhere. Heat, flies, dirt and sweat and he ignores all this to go off on a 'jog' into the hinterlands. Does he check his backpack for sufficient water? Does he check to see that he has a mobile phone? Does he check to watch where he's running? Does he tell anyone where he's going? Does he have a brain? Ok. That last observation is unfair. Presumably he does - somewhere.

So there he goes and he gets horribly lost. So lost that he's three miles away from where he began his run. Honestly. You have to wonder. So he is eighteen years of age. A kid. A youth. A bloody idiot. He's been given the opportunity to work on the other side of the world. One would have expected that at least he may have been given a talking to before going there. 'Watch where you're going when you go for a jog...' (His parents know that he's a fitness freak). 'Check out where the snakes are. Take enough water. Take a map. Take a phone. Tell someone.' Who knows how much of this advice he abided by? He was lucky because his Dad had put some contact lens fluid into his backpack but he didn't check beforehand to see what was in there. What the fuck was he doing?

So his mother, besides herself with worry, checks herself onto a plane and dashes off to the desert. She doesn't know what she'll find there. Will he be found? Will he be alive or dead? Will he have been struck by a snake? Will he have been eaten by dingos? Will he have discovered a forgotten spring and kept himself hydrated? Will he, heck. He drank his contact lens fluid and then his pee. God knows what that must taste like but if you're desperate, anything wet would have been nectar. As it was, he was found alive, dehydrated, having lost an amazing two stone and with his kidneys having almost packed up. What a lucky, lucky boy. How many more lives will he have? Like so many men, young and old, he believed that he was inviolable. Will he have to rely on others to save him again?

I remember the first time that I had to go off to find Zach and bring him back to our kind of civilization. Three days in an airport hotel in Athens. Watching the flights landing among the scrub and wild flowers at the side of the runway. Eating Greek salad and drinking retisna on my own in my room because I was too stressed out and too anxious to spend any time by the hotel pool while waiting for news of him. Finding him shackled to a bed and drugged into oblivion in a run down and chaotic private hospital. It wasn't Australia but it could have been. Those hours waiting for a team of London doctors and psychiatric nurses who were on their way to 'rescue' him seemed like months. He, too, believed that he was inviolable. That nothing would happen to him when he took himself off to wherever he believed he was entitled to go and did whatever he did without any conscience. So long as no one knew what he was doing, then no one had to worry. Only, life's not like that. Cause and effect. Nothing happens in a vaccum. There's always a fallout and the innocent are the ones who have to pick up the pieces. I hope that Mr. Eighteen Year Old from Richmond remembers that. He may not have another chance. Unlike Zach.

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