We had chosen to return home on saturday. The weather reports were threatening an extreme temperature, but we'd recently had a whole weeks worth of 40 plus degrees. More of the same, we thought. As we drove along the freeway towards Melbourne, the wind was a fierce northerly. It was so hot and had picked up much top soil making the air hazy. I said to my boyfriend how much it reminded me of Ash Wednesday. I was 13 then, and it seemed terrifying that so much of the State was on fire. There had been stories of the fire making its way to the beach, and the heat of the flames had turned the sand into glass! I was always amazed by that thought. I felt really unsettled and discovered that my flight or fight response is heavily weighted to 'flight'.
As we got closer to home, we turned on the radio. The news updates began and stories of the fires came rolling one after the other. I could hardly fathom the heat I was experiencing in suburbia. What was going on? As we watched the evening news, I couldn't believe some of what I saw. As the days progressed the complete and utter horror of what had occurred came to light. Whole towns burnt to the ground and turned into crime scenes. Homes, livestock, native animals, pets and people were lost. People died in their cars trying to escape, and they died in their homes trying to defend everything they owned. I, like so many others, were left speechless. And worse still, the fires kept burning, and suggestions of arson arose.
But slowly, reports of amazing escapes, immense bravery and good luck began to fill the news. Then the reports of fund raising to help the survivors rebuild their lives. Donations rolled in from across the State and Country. Clothing, toiletries, caravans, food for pets and livestock. It all kept coming. By the one week anniversary of the fire 100 million dollars had been raised. In this time of global financial crisis people gave and gave and gave. Queensland had extreme floods, and the victims gave their emergency money to the victims of the fires. I feel like I've cried every day since those fires, as the variety of stories come to light.
What it makes me think of though, is the very real feeling of humanity. It makes me think of other news stories from modern times. In many ways they feel like yesterday and in other ways, like a bad dream that time is slowly erasing. I remember how I felt on September 11 2001. Disbelief. Then footage of people jumping from the twin towers. Incomprehension. Footage of hostages being beheaded. Numbness. When I think back to that period in recent history, the Dinosaur Jr song 'Feel the Pain' always floats through my head. 'I feel the pain of everyone, and then I feel nothing'. The unthinkable was happening everyday and it felt very much like something inside me broke. It was too hard to comprehend and everyone was terrified. Sadness or anguish does not explain it.
I am pleased, in a way, that I have cried every day about the fires. It means that the numbness has gone. However I wonder if I am able to, as a natural disaster seems quite different to the grief you feel when the horror is man made. I am unable to this day (and I assume all my life) to understand how some people can hold another human being down and cut their head off, just to make a point. Even writing that takes me back to a very sad place - as there's a recording of it in my mind.
I know arson has been suggested as one of the causes of some of the fires from that day. But perhaps as there are options to contribute to the rebuilding, and memorials held for those who were lost there is a direction for our collective feelings to go. There has been an amazing feeling of community throughout Australia and that reminds me that the power of humanity is amazing. Unlike those other terrifying recent events where I felt alone and scared. Together people will heal and I hope we all keep giving and giving and giving.