Take the time to make use of the empty seat

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It was a crisp morning as I set off early to take an energetic stroll along the river near Rotary Park before I drove to work.

Later, on my way into town, I came around the bend in our road where usually I only see kangaroos. There stood a young man with his thumb out.

When I said where I was heading, he happily climbed in beside me.

He wasn’t a neighbour.

I asked him where had he come from? He told me he’d cut across the paddocks for a kilometre or so. This was his fastest route to get into town.

He introduced himself by name and asked me mine.

We chatted away, two strangers finding out a little about each other.

On our short trip, I heard that he is studying at TAFE, has a girlfriend in Perth and they make weekly commutes to be with each other. We mused about the fickle weather and its effect on those of us who do early morning walks.

At his destination, I expressed admiration for his busy life. “Ya gotta do it,” he said in an easy-going sort of way.

He climbed out and thanked me for the lift. We wished each other a good day.

Later, as I sipped my coffee, I thought about how an empty car seat can quickly fill with another person’s world.

I thought about my new friend-and his friends.

I thought about the pressures on their young lives, their uncertainties and challenges. What they own up to, who they talk to.

Where do they go when they need help? How do they learn confidence?

Maybe, like me, you’ve driven a teenage child to an event-a party, a concert, a sports event perhaps-to discover on the way that there’s something upsetting them.

Something said at school, maybe something hurtful or bullying, crass, designed to inflict pain.

Next thing there are tears. You sit with your child, outside the venue.

Should you take them home?

Eventually, the sobbing eases. Then, suddenly, they open the car door and they are gone. “See ya later. Love ya!”

To your surprise, they are laughing with their mates, shyacking, and they disappear from view.

The empty car seat aches with the worries of a youngster who occupied it a moment ago. I ponder over the earlier display of fear and the sudden shift in self-confidence.

When our family was younger, we lived in Perth and had a holiday house in Margaret River. We bought a people-mover.

With our three young sons and their three mates it would be a full drive down south on a Friday night. Eight people captive (and captivated) in the living-space of a motor vehicle for three hours – the jokes, the games, the upsets and the questions.

The entire-yes, the entire-libretto of Les Miserables, in the dark as we zoomed along. “Look down, look down / Don’t look ’em in the eye… Now bring me prisoner 24601…”

We all learned more about each other; we were connecting.

Stuart Hicks Take The Time

It put me in mind of my own childhood.

We lived in the country, an unusually long way from my school.

It was workable because Dad had to drive from our farm each day to his work in the city.

With my brother I travelled to and from school with Dad. I clearly remember the texture and colour of a variety of Holden and Chrysler dashboards from my intense scrutiny of them over many years.

That’s a funny thing about car travel; an intimate space without eye contact. Most clearly, I remember the talks with Dad en route.

Time enough to drift, far and wide… I coaxed him to talk about his day-partly in defence, because sometimes I resisted his detailed interrogations about my day. We talked about most things under the sun.

He taught me values, how to form and argue a view, how to keep liking someone even when I violently disagreed with them, curiosity and listening, how to be more honest about feelings, being clearer about how others understand me, confidence to try things.

That car seat next to you has a lot of power, empty or occupied.

If you know a young person, from time to time fill up the seat next to you. Go for a drive, leave the radio off. Don’t like driving?

Put something really nice at the other end.

There are a lot of cool places in Margs. Practice being interested and interesting.

Practice being connected and connecting.

Like many things in life, given air, it may turn out to be a self- fulfilling prophecy.

Stuart Hicks and his wife owned a house in Margaret River which they visited on a fortnightly basis for 25 years. They moved here ten years ago.

Stuart is inaugural chair of Mindful Margaret River.

Mindful Margaret River is an alliance of mental wellbeing professionals, government agencies, community members and the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River to promote health and wellbeing in the Shire.

For young people finding things hard, help is available. To access support in Margaret River, call Headspace on 6164 0680 to make an appointment. If it is an emergency, call 000 or take them to hospital. Alternatively there is 24/7 advice and support available through Lifeline 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

First published by Augusta Margaret River Mail 24 June 2021

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