The world is an angry intemperate beast. She loves us, she hates us. Parts of the world suffer floods while others are devastated by fires. Cyclones rage, famines caused by drought cut swathes through populations and without a doubt the climate is changing and we will feel the wrath of Gaia again and again in the coming years.
Natural disasters are just that: nasty destroying harpies from Nature, things we have very little control over. Who wants to die in a tsunami, lose everything in fire, flood or storm? None of us. Ever. Yet we do, because we live on this planet and no place is safe, not really, not guaranteed, so we build our houses and hope they are rooted in the rock, not the shifting, intemperate sands. And given how the climate is changing how can we know where will be safe next year, in five years or a hundred?
My beloved step-mother Barbara has lost everything in the recent fires that swept through South-eastern Tasmania – her house, her goods and chattels; all her lovely paintings. She is in shock, devastated by her loss. But she is lucky, and I know she knows she is, despite her pain, her feelings of betrayal and unfairness at such an act at such a time of life. Yet, luck seems to have abandoned her, a lifetime of possessions, of treasures taken by the flames, burnt in an evil inferno. How can this be fair? She is a good woman: honest, decent, creative, artistic, loving (even where not deserved) and generous. She has lived a big life, a good, worthwhile life. So why has such a terrible thing happened to her?
Sadly, goodness does not always elicit rewards. Bad things happen to good people. And despite this hideous event, Barb will recover. Because she is strong and she is still lucky – the irreplaceable things of life – the people and her cat – are still here. Nothing died in the fire – yes things were lost, things that can never be truly replaced but people once lost are gone forever and Barb has her loved ones around her to cherish her and keep her strong as she rebuilds her life. This is not to diminish her (or others who have also had everything reduced to cinders in this latest Antipodean inferno) loss but to remember that in the midst of despair if we look closely enough there is enough luck to keep us going. This is not the time to dwell on the fairness or justice of matter – that way madness lies. I say again: bad things happen to good people – there is no reason, no why, no divine retribution: it just happens that way.
In the midst of Nature’s melt downs – the earthquake in Christchurch, the Boxing Day tsunami (see The Impossible for a truly remarkable true life story about luck and the vagaries of Nature), Hurricane Katrina, etc – there are always stories of amazing survival: the indomitable nature of the human spirit prevails amidst carnage and terror. Yes, some of us are lucky to survive – why one family in Thailand and not another? But some of us make our own luck. There’s another mysterious fact of life: some people are luckier than others, things just go their way.
Life is a dilemma; living means joy and pain. We struggle and sometimes we win and some days we lose. It’s too trite by far to say that it’s what we learn in the struggle that is important. It’s not that easy to pick yourself up after life screws you over so comprehensively. Loss is hard for all of us, no matter the magnitude – a lost game of football, a missed promotion, a rejecting lover, the loss of face, a failed business, the repossession of your home and assets; a failed marriage, a stillborn child, the death of a spouse. These things happen to us – if we’re lucky we only experience a few of them. Some of us get more than our fair share. What marks us though is how we deal with such things. It is easy to fall prey to self pity and despair and give up. God knows, no-one would blame us. But after the pain has eased, after the shock is over, after the constant negative-destructive thoughts have ebbed away there is space and time to resume life – to rebuild, to start again.
Lucky people know what could have been – how much worse things might have been. They count their blessings, and move on with their lives, remaking their futures, being lucky to be alive and strong enough to start again.
The world can only beat you if you let it. (Images courtesy Google Images and Ryan Curtis)