Luck in life and learning: Gracious Grigson gives back


By Marcus Uhe

Precede: Rod Grigson’s travel ambitions have taken him to New York, the Middle East and now Melbourne, where he’s settled with his wife at Botanic Ridge. The computer scientist turned published author spoke to Gazette reporter MARCUS UHE about his experiences and how they shaped his vision.

Quote: “All my life, I was able to move on because someone helped me. When you have the opportunity, you have to take it, you have to move forward yourself, but this first step is because someone helped me.

A series of lucky events made Rod Grigson consider himself extremely lucky to be living the life he has.

Growing up in a socialist Sri Lanka, dodging the conflicts and economic turmoil that unfolded all around him and facing limited future prospects, he was looking for a way out of the country but faced significant financial obstacles.

A chance message from a distant cousin living in New York with a plane ticket to fly to the Big Apple gave him a chance to escape and turned out to be a real sliding door moment.

“She was living in New York and said, ‘Rod, here he is. Come live with me and we’ll see what happens from there,'” Mr Grigson said.

“She was the one who got me out of the country and my life would have been completely different if I hadn’t had that ticket.

“I was considering going to Europe overland because I didn’t have the money to fly. I was going to take a boat to India and cross Europe by road and rail. That would have been my plan.

“It would have been a completely different story, my life.”

Looking for a job but only on a tourist visa, Mr Grigson went to the UN headquarters to look for work.

By chance, they were hiring at the time, and he was taken to an exam hall for a 90-question multiple-choice exam which he took by chance, resulting in a job offer.

Mr Grigson worked diligently during his night shifts, but as a curious 25-year-old his ambitions to travel remained strong.

When the UN issued a call for personnel to go to the Middle East on deployment, he jumped at the chance. But he had no idea what he was getting into.

As Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1978, Mr Grigson found himself an inventory officer for the UN armed forces, tasked with keeping tabs on all equipment, including vehicles and weapons used by the 11,000 soldiers.

Although he was able to achieve his goal of traveling, meeting new people, and seeing more of the world, he didn’t expect his life to be in danger before accepting the opportunity.

“Very often you had to cross the front line to enter the buffer zones,” Mr Grigson said. “Crossing the front lines, you had to go through minefields, make sure you don’t get blown up by mines, make sure you don’t get shot by trigger-happy soldiers.

“All these things happen, but you just have to learn to live in this environment.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system but you adapt. Humans are amazing creatures and you adapt to all kinds of weird things.

In 2022, Mr. Grigson retired from his days as a computer technician and now teaches at five different community centers across the Southeast, including the Doveton Neighborhood Learning Center and the Balla Balla Community Center.

At Balla Balla, Mr. Grigson offers a creative writing class and hosts the Balla Balla ‘Scribe Tribe’.

Thanks to his grandfather’s encouragement to read as much as he could, he developed a love for books as a child, encouraging early life aspirations to explore creating his own literature. But for a man who had spent his working life writing nonfiction reports that required precise technical language with little scope for exploration or creative flair, it was a big change.

After receiving uncomfortable feedback from an editor about his first attempts at creative writing, the future teacher signed up for a creative writing course in 2013.

He was told he had the content and experiences to write engaging and compelling stories based on his real-life accounts of his time in conflict zones, but not the skills to execute the task.

The following year, after months and months of practice and refinement, he was a published author, since his first book, ‘Sacred Tears’, a story about characters living through global conflicts in the Middle East and Sri Lanka , was released in 2014.

Mr Grigson took over ‘Scribe Tribe’ after their former coordinator left and in a desperate state, with just a handful of members to speak of.

After creating his own creative writing course for his class, he revived the group to 18 current members, with memoirs released in 2019 and 2021, respectively.

Their latest paper documents their life experiences through Covid-19 and all that has come with the challenges of lockdowns and avoiding a dangerous disease.

“As a teacher, it’s very satisfying,” Mr. Grigson said of producing a final copy and having something to show for the band’s hard work.

His home country of Sri Lanka continues to be ravaged by economic uncertainty in 2022, with shortages of essential resources such as food and fuel crippling the island nation, including his younger brother, who is still home and recently lost his tourism business.

He financially supports his brother from afar where he can, under no illusions that he could have suffered the same fate, if not for receiving that fateful ticket as a young adult.

All of this underlies his immense sense of gratitude that he carries with him every day.

“All my life, I was able to move forward because someone helped me. When you have the opportunity, you have to take it, you have to move forward yourself, but this first step is because someone helped me.

To read some of Rod’s work, including his short stories and published novels, go to rodericgrigson.com

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