“The day that turns a life upside down usually starts like any other,” writes Leigh Sales in the introduction to her book Any Ordinary Day, in which she shares candid conversations with people who’ve come through the other side of trauma.
Among them, Walter Mikac, whose wife and two daughters were murdered by a gunman in Port Arthur in 1996, and Stuart Diver, who survived the 1997 Thredbo landslide that killed 18 people, including his wife, Sally.
The book was sparked by “a combination of things,” Sales, host of the ABC’s 7:30, tells The New Daily.
“Twenty-five years of being a journalist and covering story after story about people who were just going about their lives and then, suddenly, things were turned upside down due to events outside their control, and also a series of personal crises in my own life that had caused me to feel rattled.”
From almost dying in 2014 as she gave birth to her second child, James, to coping with both her sons’ health challenges, and a marriage breakup in 2016, the Sydney journalist has weathered her share of pain.”
In part, she wrote the book to help herself get through it all.
“I wanted to see what happened to people after they had gone through the worst thing I could imagine happening to me.
“In hindsight, I think I was looking for somebody to hold my hand and say, ‘Don’t worry, you will be okay’.”
She’d need the assurances.
As she wrote, Sales’ friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and this year, she lost her beloved father (the book is dedicated to Joseph, “the very best of dads”).
Working on the book, “helped me enormously”, says Sales.
“It gave me certainty to know that I wanted to be with my father when he died. It also helped me understand, in the weeks after, why I was acting and feeling like I was.
“Understanding your emotions doesn’t stop them, of course, but I felt some comfort in knowing what was going on.”
— Leigh Sales (@leighsales) September 19, 2018
Sales drew solace from her conversations with interviewees including Father Steve Sinn, a Jesuit priest whom she describes as “probably the most influential” person she met.
“Father Steve had spoken about the need to ‘accompany’ people through suffering and to not be so worried about whether you will say or do the wrong thing,” says Sales, of how this helped her be there for her sick friend.
“It seems so obvious but it was like a light going on for me.”
The Walkley Award-winner will not soon forget the survivors who shared their stories with her.
“Walter Mikac is a particularly beautiful and generous soul,” she notes, but “every person in this book made a significant impact on me”.
As have their words – seeds of wisdom that Sales is planting in her own life.
“I try to notice when something good is happening to me and to be grateful for it,” she reflects.
“I try to notice little things like how delicious a cake is or how pretty a flower looks. I try to not wish time away.”
In an era when the news seems darker than ever, her book has also given her an uplifting perspective on her job.
“It’s made me feel better about people on my program who are experiencing moments of intense suffering, because I know that in the majority of cases, their lives will go on,” Sales sums up.
“Even when tragic things happen to people, many of us do find ways to carry on. We find a new normal.
“Even though we may carry daily pain and suffering, we are still able to experience joy too.”
Any Ordinary Day, by Leigh Sales, Penguin Hamish Hamilton, RRP $35