Middle English Word of the Moment

Monday, February 9, 2009


I don't understand.

I just can't begin to comprehend, on a real level, either how this could happen or what it means, for everyone out there who is affected by it in realer terms than I am.

I walk up and down the main street here, in inner suburbian Melbourne, and everyone is standing in clusters, swapping stories. Making connections. Trying to understand, or just acknowledging, sharing, trying to feel as if we're doing something just by feeling some little shadow of the grief and loss with them. I sat in a coffee shop and read through every article in the Herald Sun on the fires, and I was in tears by page two, and I had to keep going out of some weird feeling that I had to, at least, hear the stories. Some form of vigil, or acknowledgement.

I can't write - I tried. I'm too distracted to do anything resembling real work. It doesn't seem real at the moment. It will pass, I know, it will recede as everything does, into a memory of sympathy and statistics. But while it's still real, oughtn't we try to keep it open? There's so little that we can really do, and I've already done what I can in donations, and can volunteer myself for various relief work in the next few days when the fires die down and the aftermath sets in, but I can't escape the feeling that more important than the material acknowledgement is the knowing, the feeling. Not letting the story fade.

But I still feel, inescapably, helplessly, like I ought to do more, do something.

Perhaps we're meant to.

Stories from today:
- A man, already on fire, was saved by his beloved horse when he was pushed over the fence down into the creek below. He was sure the horse must have died, given the impossible flames he would have had to run through; but when he climbed out of the creek once the fires had passed, the horse was standing in the middle of the panic with minor burns around his eyes and nose.
- Someone in the paper reported being approached by a badly burned man, blackened, skin hanging off him, carrying his baby daughter, who wasn't touched. He said "I've lost my wife, I've lost my sons, please make sure she's okay, she's all I've got left". They didn't see him again.
- A man I passed on the street is waiting to drive up to see if his holiday home is alright.
- One man was driving, fleeing the flames, but with the smoke so thick he couldn't see the flames were also in front of him. The first thing he knew of it was when the car in front of him, carrying his neighbours, just - exploded. I don't know how he survived. I doubt he does.
- Julia Gillard, our deputy PM, renowned for her unshakeable demeanour, had a shaking voice and a tissue in hand when she spoke about the bushfires yesterday. Our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has labelled the arsonists mass murderers.
- Several radio stations, usually frivolous in their subject matter, have had people calling in to tell their stories, voices shaking, in tears, sometimes unable to finish. It doesn't matter. We know what they mean.
- A woman in the coffee shop was waiting for news of her cousin.
- The town of Flowerdale was "forgotten" by the world - emergency services abandoned them on Saturday evening when the fire trucks were called away to a nearby town, and in the chaos no one got back to them until journalists arrived last night, to find the survivors huddling in the central pub.
- A distant friend of my grandmother had a stepdaughter who was presumed dead, but he refused to believe it. He hired a helicopter and flew over where she'd last been, hunting, and eventually returned with her - alive. And the whole town celebrated, even those people who had never known her, because one person had returned alive who had been supposed dead, and for one moment the ever-climbing death toll missed its foothold and slipped a step back.
- And a picture that is a story all by itself, taken from the Herald Sun:

Police now fear that the death toll may rise to 300 or more.

1 comment:

Dywalgi said...

The devastation your region has been through can't help but give pause....even sixteen thousand kilometers away, each new update to the death toll, each new batch of news gives another shade of detail to the horror of it. And that, from the relatively sanitised perspective of the international news. I think you're absolutely right about the stories -- it's a form of honouring, of absorbing,of coping, and valuable in the process of absorbing the trauma of this. It's not something that _can_ be understood, I think, but that doesn't mean that the attempt should not be made.

Thoughts and prayers to you, and your loved ones, your region and your country.