In a bid to read more books, I’ve opened my eyes, or rather, ears, to the world of audiobooks. Some may contest whether this is actually reading or not, whether you’re being respectful to the text you’re engaging with, or not, but for me it’s another way of experiencing and engaging with a book that I may otherwise have pushed aside. For Leigh Sales Any Ordinary Day, I had opted for the audiobook version over the physical one merely for the fact that it was read by Sales herself. Just like many Australians, I have found comfort in hearing Sales talk about the news of the day. Sales inquiring questioning techniques prod and poke in a curious fashion, teasing out the best responses from her subjects, making what could have been a rote interview great.
Any Ordinary Day looks at the way that unexpected events create trauma and instigate life changes that people would never have expected. Having Leigh Sales explore the stories of many survivors – with everyone from Stuart Diver, to James Scott, to Louisa Hope – feels natural, and expected. After all, she has been the conduit for many bad news stories throughout the years, breaking tragedy to a nation with a profound level of stoicism. But Leigh isn’t without her own traumatic life events, having suffered from a uterine rupture with her second child, and then having her 20-year relationship fall apart, and while this was happening, Sales still managed to somehow present news stories about the Lindt Café siege, or about Phillip Hughes’ death.
For any of us in the world, when we hear stories about Phillip Hughes, a young cricketer who died after being struck by a ball, we have an outpouring of our own kind of grief. It’s an empathetic grief that’s usually followed up with a comment such as, ‘how terrible it must be for his family’, or ‘I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through such a thing’. For Leigh Sales, having to report on this daily means having to exist in that realm of empathetic grief constantly, and when her own trauma compounded that grief, she did the only thing she knew how to do – ask why and how it happened.
The need to know why these things happen to regular people, and how they deal with the outcome of the traumatic event, is what makes up the core thesis of Any Ordinary Day. The subjects that Sales covers is broad and exceptionally deep. As an agnostic, Sales can’t help but ask, what is the importance of religion for people? But she clearly empathises with those who follow a faith, and works to understand why they would lean on a God who has given them a difficult ‘lot in life’.
Or, as in the case of Stuart Diver, she looks at how ‘unlucky’ someone has to be to be in a massive traumatic event like the Thredbo landslide, which made him a widower, and then, to have remarried and lost his second wife, making him a two-time widower. Sales employs maths to figure out ‘the odds’ of Diver becoming a three-time widower, and fortunately, they are in his favour that it is greatly unlikely to happen again. These stories of odds and the likelihood of any one, living ‘any ordinary day’, being part of an unexpected traumatic event is so low, yet, it can happen to anyone.
As Leigh says at the end of the book, she wishes that she could tell you how to avoid walking into the Lindt Café on the day that someone decides to instigate a terrorist attack, or how to avoid being part of the Port Arthur massacre, or how to avoid an accident, but she can’t. It’s impossible. We never know when these events are going to happen, or how they are going to happen – they just happen.
While this would make for an engaging, interesting read, it’s the familiarity with Leigh Sales and her comforting voice that makes this audiobook a must listen venture. The sound of swallowing between sentences, or the uneasy pauses that appear between sentences where you can imagine Sales contemplating her own words as she reads them out, these elements would usually be edited out, but here, they add to the mood of the book, making it feel more immediate, and in turn, making it a much more personal affair than a physical book would. After all, we’re all so familiar with Leigh Sales, having already had 25 years of on screen presence to build a relationship with, so hearing her read a story about investigating trauma and grief makes it all the more relatable.
These are exceptional events, so having a familiar person discuss them and explore them with us makes it feel understandable. An enduring question lives throughout every story – how do you learn to live with grief? Sales says, ‘there is no closure, only acceptance that this is your new future’, and to hear that come from Leigh Sales makes it reassuring. It becomes comforting in a way that words on a page could not be. This is the power of an audiobook, of having someone present in your ears, talking to you, but encouraging you to listen and understand. It makes for an emotionally overwhelming experience.
In the last chapter, Leigh Sales tells a story about the emotions of having gone through the wealth of interviews and research for the book. She says, ‘As I write this, tears are streaming down my face’. You can hear a pause – a collection of thoughts, a recollection of the weight of her own words, a recollection of a memory – and you appreciate that moment of silence, a moment of vulnerability. It’s a moment of humanity shining through. Sales’ memories of the people she has interviewed carries on her like a profound weight, and you can hear that in her voice. These are memories created by the traumatic memories of others. There’s a transference of grief, of trauma, making this book a kind of empathy.
For most of us, we will never know what it means to live through these kinds of events, and we are the lucky ones for living those kinds of lives. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t empathise with others. If there’s an enduring aspect about Any Ordinary Day, it’s the encouragement to respect and care for our fellow citizens of the world. To engage in more empathy and understanding. To value compassion and consideration. To respect one another, as you never know what the stranger on the street has gone through in their lives.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is an essential read – or, as with the audiobook, experience. I know I will revisit this again time and time again, and I encourage you to do so too.