Fire

This summer we have already experienced, in the Blue Mountains and elsewhere, the eruption of fierce bushfires. There are many ways of describing the effects of such events in terms of property and personal loss. However, the trauma damage done to children, women and men of all ages often runs deep – far deeper that some believe possible.

2013

January 18, 2003 was a day set in a series of days of fierce heat, low humidity and high winds in SE Australia. It was the day when 500 homes were destroyed in the ACT by a firestorm with winds estimated to be around 200kms ph. Our home was one of them.

No-one in our family was burned; no-one in our family died. Even so, when my wife and I found, after several hours, that we and our offspring were all accounted for, I had little appreciation of the profound effect that day was to have on our health and our future.

The morning after the firestorm we began by finding temporary accommodation and purchasing the basic necessities of life – toothbrushes and paste, underwear etc. In the days to follow, we raked through the ashes of our home, finding some coins, jewellery, pottery…..just a few precious symbols of life and love.

Many friends have commented on the loss of our home, of most of our possessions: few have any clear appreciation of the trauma behind the loss; the experience of knowing that at any moment hundreds of people could have died; the apocalypse-like scenes of the streets, of our street…deep darkness, screaming wind, fires breaking out on the parched lawns and the tan-bark at our feet as if ignited by pools of petrol; the inability to hear the screams of people close by; the decision to try to escape by car, leaving most of our photograph albums in our second car; the choked streets…choked with traffic, with burning embers, with fear; and our feelings of utter vulnerability and powerlessness. There remain the obvious myriad of relocation issues to do with finding a new home, and settling into it (after two temporary homes early in 2003) and the after-affects of post-traumatic stress.

INTERRUPTION … evolution of meaning

When chaos strikes, there is an interruption to our normal life-flow: something completely from the blue has intruded and disrupted our living. It may be the case that there is never any real closure concerning life-changing disasters: there is only a change to the meaning of such events… “as the years go by, the meaning of the event develops and changes….there is  no real closure in these big life events, they just slowly evolve in their meaning”[1].

There is no return to the emotional and spiritual state that existed before the trauma. You never ‘get over’ such wounds in the sense that you can return to the same state as before. As with the case of Jacob at the Brook Jabbock, there remains a scar, a limp…reminders of the painful episode.  Some people who experience burnout seek to return to the same condition of health as before the burnout: such a dream is a fantasy. Rather, the search may best be described as a seeking after the God-planted seeds of wisdom that come amidst the trauma. events… “as the years go by, the meaning of the event develops and changes….there is  no real closure in these big life events, they just slowly evolve in their meaning”[2].

There is no return to the emotional and spiritual state that existed before the trauma. You never ‘get over’ such wounds in the sense that you can return to the same state as before. As with the case of Jacob at the Brook Jabbock, there remains a scar, a limp…reminders of the painful episode.  Some people who experience burnout seek to return to the same condition of health as before the burnout: such a dream is a fantasy. Rather, the search may best be described as a seeking after the God-planted seeds of wisdom that come amidst the trauma.

FINDING AND CELEBRATING YOUR OWN PATTERN 

Religious life is largely shaped by laws, expectations, rules. However, the ironic truth is that the great myths show us that when you follow somebody else’s pattern, you go astray: the hero has to set off by him/herself and must venture into the darkness of the unknown where there is no map and no clear route.

Our thoughts and prayers are with those who now seek new patterns of living and face fresh learnings in the wake of loss and trauma. They need much courage and great patience for the days ahead.

 

TERROR[3]

Recentering after the smattering

the scattering

of belongings, emotions,

the smallest, the most ordinary of life’s routines,

What a project!

Not merely deciding such things as

where now to live,

in what kind of house….

This is far more demanding

and urgent.

A new terror.

This is the redefining, the re-imagining, of what remains

of my life.

People say, from depths of concern,

‘Are you going back?’

(meaning, I suppose, am I going back

to where our home once stood before the day of the firestorm

where, in a flash of wind and dark fire

most of the things we owned evaporated,

liquefied or were left twisted and distorted,

like the iron from our glass-topped kitchen table)

That journey is a nonsense.

Return is impossible.

I will not waste my sorrows.

Rather, I will seek their gifts

denied me until now

–              new patterns,

–              fresh brokenness,

–              a new contentment, tear-embossed,

–              sweet wine, so sweet,

so, so sweet.

 

ROSS KINGHAM

CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY COMMITTEE


[1] Dr Rob Gordon, Melbourne psychologist, Canberra Times, January 15, 2005 (commenting on the Canberra fires of January 18 2003)

[2] Dr Rob Gordon, Melbourne psychologist, Canberra Times, January 15, 2005 (commenting on the Canberra fires of January 18 2003)

[3] On 18th January, 2003, our city was hit by a firestorm. Our home was one of 500 destroyed, and we narrowly escaped the flames.

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