Staying positive in the face of disaster

17 Jan

 Queensland floods – January 11-13, 2011

The rain has been unrelenting over the past two weeks and yet, I still found myself as a Brisbane resident thinking that we were immune to the possibility of flooding. I’ve never in my life been in a city while a disaster, natural or human made, has occurred. The worst we get is some fairly heavy storms in summer that can knock out the power for a few hours.  That was, until two days ago when watching channel 9 news reporting on the deathly flash flooding in Toowoomba, less than two hours from where I live.  Continuing on from that report was the news that this devastating wall of water was headed towards Brisbane, joining forces with the swollen river and burgeoning Wivenhoe dam. Newsflash – Brisbane was going to experience flooding unheard of since 1974.

My thoughts immediately turned to my mother, who was working in Ipswich, one of the current danger zones. She was supposed to be relieved of her seven day stint as a caregiver for an at-risk youth that day. As I watched the news, I felt sure that she was going to be stuck there. My fingers hit auto dial and mum reassured me in her usual chirpy tone that she was just fine and would be home tomorrow. Less than two hours later, she called again to say that they had just been evacuated, that the water was rushing into the city at an alarming rate but that she was safe and not to worry.  Hello!  When it comes to family, telling me not to worry is like asking Shane Warne to stop texting illicit ditties to married women.  It ain’t going to happen! 

The past two days have been somewhat of an emotional roller coaster. For hours I have had the TV firmly glued to Australia’s Channel Nine News, observing reporter Karl Stefanovic and Queensland’s’ Premier Anna Bligh as they recount widespread devastation, several deaths and the lingering possibility of disease.  I’m sure I’m not the only one to be shocked and confounded by the frightening footage of Toowoomba or Brisbane’s central district, now covered by an ominous muddy swirl.  The more I watched, the more my mood became sombre and quite emotional at times. People were losing loved ones, thousands had lost their homes and livelihoods.  In some less discernible way, it felt like our ‘lucky lives’ were being threatened.

One thing that remained unaffected was the demeanour of my girls.  They continued to laugh, dance, paint, and play with their Barbie’s. They complain about the fact that they are unable to swim in the pool and pester me to take them to the park, mall or even the “cold shop” (supermarket).  They glance at the news footage and fleetingly say “poor nana” and “their house is going to be dirty!”  Seconds later, they resume their version of Australian Idol where one sings or dances to Selena Gomez and the other two judge.   Kids, hey! 

Phone lines were congested for two days but when I eventually talked with my mum – I was once again amazed by her continued upbeat attitude.  To be honest, it was slightly bewildering; given the gamut of emotions I was feeling, just watching the disaster unfold on television!  There she was, a 60 year old woman with little food, no power or water, surrounded by catastrophe and yet she was laughing at her apparent luck!  

While my mother later acknowledged that it had been scary at times, she said that she was able to maintain calm because she had a young person in her care, who was understandably traumatized.  This girl had just lost all her worldly possessions and the only place she could ever remember calling home. For me, it was an enormous relief to know that they were safe and that my mum would get to return home as soon as the roads cleared. 

It was also a timely reminder that while anyone can maintain a positive attitude when everything is going their way – it is much more difficult to maintain that positive attitude when the going gets tough. 

Of course, it’s important to have compassion for those who experienced loss and devastation in the Queensland floods.  But surely you can be of more help to others with a smile on your face than someone who is depressed and sullen?  As irritating as it can be at times, my mother has always demonstrated that when you maintain a hopeful disposition and put on a happy face in a dire situation; it is so much easier to be happy on an everyday basis. 

The damage to Brisbane and in fact much of Queensland will no doubt have long term effects and require a lot of work, money and community spirit. There is more heavy rain forecast for the next month or two and a possible cyclone on Australia Day.  So, this is far from over. 

At the moment, my life feels slightly altered.  From now on, I will no longer be able to view overseas reports of natural disasters with the same level of denial.  I am immensely grateful for the daily luxuries that I usually overlook as part of modern living – clean drinking water, power, a home untouched by the sometimes brutal forces of Mother Nature.  

I am also reminded of the choice to stay positive in the apparent face of disaster.  Thanks mum!

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One Response to “Staying positive in the face of disaster”

  1. Terry February 19, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    I too feel humbled by the scale of this disaster. An expanse he size of France & Germany..that’s about half a Mediterranean Sea suddenly appearing on the globe.

    And the people of Aus have kept an amazing stiff upper lip about the whole thing. Hats off to you and thnx Kirri for putting this human face on it.

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