Aaryn Harper, of Masterton. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND
‘The things that don’t kill us make us stronger’
Aaryn Harper, 52, has been stabbed twice, accidentally shot, beaten to within an inch of his life, and was struck down by a heart attack two years ago.
In his own words, he’s never been very lucky – “the last time I won something was when I was 17”.
And so a random act of kindness went a long way when he stumbled across an envelope outside Countdown in Masterton that simply said, “open me”.
It was a Tuesday – the day before pay day – and Aaryn had $8, enough to buy himself some groceries to make dinner.
His major heart attack forced him to give up work and he is on a very limited income as a result.
After doing his shop, he found the envelope outside and opened it to find $10 and a message that put an ear-to-ear grin on his face.
The message said: “I am so grateful that you are alive and well today. I hope this message of love fills your day with lots of joy and happiness because you deserve the best”.
Still dealing with the grief of losing his teenaged nephew Ryan Crook this year to suicide, Aaryn said the message was “just so nice”.
He used the $10 to splash out on takeaways, storing the groceries he had bought in the fridge for another day.
He said although it was a “random act of kindness”, in some ways the kindness was “very intentional”.
“I walked home from the supermarket with the message in my pocket and a grin so big on my face I just couldn’t believe how sweet and lovely it was.
“I couldn’t believe my luck.”
In fact, it could be said that Aaryn has had very bad luck in the past – or perhaps he is very lucky to be alive.
When he had his heart attack two years ago, he was flown to hospital and had four stents put in “because my heart was 95 per cent blocked”.
“They were surprised I was even alive.”
He has been given clearance to start work again in January.
As well as a heart attack, Aaryn has been “shot once, stabbed twice and survived all of that”.
He accidentally shot himself in the face as a kid attempting to use gun powder to make firecrackers.
“The quickest way to get it out was to stick the bullet on a brick and hit it on another brick.
“Bang, I shot myself in the face and took a chunk out of the brow bone.
“My mum was a nurse – I told her I got it caught on the barbed wire fence.”
And then, in 2000, while living in Sydney, Aaryn was assaulted by a group of men and was in a coma for more than a week.
“I have three titanium plates holding my face together, had five operations to put my face back together, and I lost my memory.
“Eighteen years later, I still have flashbacks every now and then of different things.
“The only reason I know what happened was because I saw the CCTV footage from the bar.
“It was just horrible.”
Then about nine years ago, while living in Te Aroha, Aaryn was stabbed in the head and stomach by “a drunk man on P”.
“He also picked me up and threw me at a parked car twice – he was just so off his face.
“I lost my spleen. I had broken ribs . . . massive internal bleeding and I had to have a massive emergency surgery.”
The assault happened at 2.30pm in the afternoon on Aaryn’s birthday while he was out op-shopping.
“He tried to get into the op shop and the two elderly ladies there were terrified.
“They locked the door with me inside bleeding and he was just pounding on the glass.
“I went to the kitchen section and picked up these two great big carving knives, locked the ladies in the office and stood by the door.
“When the ambulance arrived, I said to them, look I’m fine, I’ll just go home, have a cigarette and a glass of wine.”
Aaryn was of course taken to hospital where he had emergency surgery.
“I had external scars and internal scars.
“I was a cabaret dancer and I couldn’t perform because of my injuries.
“I never went back to it afterwards.”
He said that during court proceedings, a police officer quipped that Aaryn was a victim of a violent crime and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I stood up and halted the whole courtroom and said, no – I was where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there.
“It was 2.30pm in the afternoon on my birthday and I was at the op shop buying stuff – that’s where I was supposed to be.
“He was drunk and on P.
“He was in the wrong place in the wrong state of mind.
“The cop said I was a victim of a violent crime.
“I said, no – I am the survivor of a violent crime.
“Once you label yourself a victim, you will always be a victim.”
Aaryn said, if anything, his life had taught him that “the things that don’t kill us only serve to make us stronger.”
“It’s been an interesting life – not an easy one, but an interesting one.”
Aaryn has since paid the random act of kindness forward by leaving a message for someone else to find in town.
This good deed adds to others he has carried out – he’s done everything from saving a family from a house fire to the simple stuff like warning someone that they’d left their car headlights on.
He is holding out for January when he will be able to re-enter the workforce.
He hopes to work in hospitality.