We’ve had the usual mix of experiences over Christmas. Some of them have been as gloriously perfect as the anticipation and some have been the inevitable shite sprinkled on the top. That’s life. That’s the reality of the season for most people.
But it’s safe to say the fires and the plight of the people and wildlife most directly affected by them have been at the forefront of most Aussie minds this holiday. Indeed, as I write this piece, we are in the midst of another ‘catastrophic’ day where dangerous heat and unpredictable winds combine to exacerbate the crisis.
Bush fires are not unusual in Australia – in spite of what you might hear on the media – but it is the scale of the fires this year that has been so unprecedented, particularly this early in the season. And having a narcissist at the helm of the country – a man who is no Jacinda Ardern – has made it worse.
For the population so far unaffected, the news coverage makes the left-over mince pies and turkey catch in our throats. Then there is the haze, the toxic smoke, and endless layers of ash on our balconies – each unsubtle reminders of the plight of so many communities, who on top of their personal losses feel abandoned by their government. We carry on our lives as normal, but with a growing sense of survivor guilt, conscious of the little we can do to help the affected and the very real danger of compassion fatigue that comes with such a bombardment of coverage from the media.
Each one of us is guilty of it. The news is never good anymore, and I find myself switching off from it as it triggers my anxiety – not for me, but for the thousands that are at the mercy of this horrifying drought that is so very hard to see an end to. And perhaps the saddest part is the knowledge that as soon as it rains, the victims of these fires will become yesterday’s news, just like the victims of the volcanic eruption in New Zealand before Christmas.
Fortunately, disasters such as these bring out the best in most people as well, and in many communities – many of whom have lost everything – it is that spirit that helps people get through these dark days. There are food collections and donations for those who have been displaced or lost their homes, and basic provisions are being packed and sent to our fire crews. When asked by the media about the morale of the victims, a Sikh volunteer who helped set up a free food truck close to the most ravaged areas mentioned their need for connection – apparently, the need to talk to someone about their losses far outweighs their need for food.
Houses can be rebuilt, so perhaps the biggest fear for everyone in the country is that these fires symbolise a new normal for Australia, unless we address climate change more proactively. It’s hard not to feel scared when your government is in denial about the problem and the foundations of the news globally seem built on increasingly devastating incidents of drought, flooding, and the rise of right wing parties who downplay it.
That’s why we have sought solace in humor this holiday period. Daniel Sloss and Trevor Noah on Netflix have gone some way to distract us from the gloom. Comedy has helped lighten the sense of helplessness and provided a reminder of the power of laughter in the face of adversity, even if the sentiment at the root of so many of their jokes is steeped in the same cuntery of life that plays out daily on our screens.
In my experience, laughter is the best medicine. When everything is taken away from us, all we have left is our spirit, our survival instinct, hope and humour. Comics such as Robin Williams knew that, as did survivors of The Holocaust and refugees who have made the decision to risk their lives on terrible journeys between continents. To a lesser degree, it was what I relied upon when I started this blog. At the time, my intention had nothing to do with writing, but expressing myself in that way helped me make sense and light of some difficult personal situations. Dissecting them in my head and then sharing them on my computer proved to be cathartic, which was why I opened up about being fired from a job, my son’s challenges with ADHD, my battles with anxiety, and my perceived failures as mother and wife. It was equally helpful to know that others out there in cyberspace identified with my struggles.
It sounds crazy, but sometimes all you can do is laugh at your own bad luck, and so I am grateful to be part of a family where the expression ‘too soon?’ is NEVER ‘too soon?’
Right now, the victims of this disaster will still be in shock, their spirits temporarily broken. They will need to talk about their experiences and be heard. But if there’s one piece of advice I want to give them it is that they WILL rise out of the ashes. They WILL get back on the horse. Seven years ago when I lost my job, it seemed like the end of the world to someone with anxiety, who was petrified of rejection. And yet, that bad luck forced me to take a different path – into writing. Similarly, there are people who have beaten cancer that talk about how their illness has changed their lives for the better.
These fires will change the life trajectory of many of its victims. All we can hope is that the change will be for the better for some of them.
The first time we smile after the loss of someone close to us is shocking. How dare we pick up our lives when something so terrible has happened, we rage internally. And yet, laughter is a sign that the spirit has returned and that hope is winning. Fortunately, the country’s spirit has not been quashed. There are angels waiting in the wings of those regions that are still battling against these terrible fires – angels with full kettles and open hearts, who are ready to listen and to help the victims smile again.