A letter to Kylie from Maria Tumarkin.
11 September 2020
Dear Kylie, my warmest hello to you.
I am a stranger to you but you are no stranger to me. I read about you, think about you, hope furiously that those people in our country quietly entrusted with your fate won’t, can’t, sleep at night until you’re home. Which is to say, I remember you, as do so many people in Australia. If we ever get to speak once you’re home – and I believe with all my might that you’ll be home soon – I hope to ask what sustained you through this time. Did the feeling of being remembered help? Did you, do you, have this feeling of being remembered? So many people in Australia, the UK and elsewhere in the world refuse to put you out of their mind. They follow whatever bits of information about your circumstances make their way into the media, they do everything they can to hold accountable – through scrutiny and advocacy – those whose job it is to ensure your safe return.
When I think about our shared place of work – The University of Melbourne, where I teach creative writing – I know it’s a broken place until your safety is certain. Our VC or whoever issues yet another wooden statement of concern, VCs do what VCs do, but underneath there are real people who worry ceaselessly about your wellbeing. An honourable institution is, at its best, not a self-legitimating bureaucracy but a living contract to not forget its people and its values, no matter what. And a nation worthy of its name is also a living contract of this very kind (which is why whatever can be said about nation-states, I still believe in them).
I am a first-generation Australian. I came to this country as a teenager. I love Australia, which means I also feel shame and rage when this country fails to do what is right and necessary. I recognise that you’re a person of immense moral courage. I think no one should be asked to be courageous for so long. Two years. In ancient Greece courage was the first virtue – not the most important, but the most fundamental – because it allowed other virtues to survive. We don’t remind ourselves enough that the word ‘courage’ comes from Latin cor, meaning heart. Please take care of your heart, dear Kylie.
Nobody of course can know what it’s like to be in your skin, and here comes Covid on top of everything else. But we close our eyes and try to imagine the contours of your daily life. For the most part though our eyes are wide open and looking at those who must find a way to bring you home.
Thank you for reading this letter from a stranger, Kylie. I am a stranger to you, but please know that you’re no stranger to me.