Compassion Has No Time Limit
2022 was meant to be a better year. A move away from all the drama and division COVID had brought when it came to our shores. And for a little while, it seemed we may actually be moving forward. January was unremarkable, a little more rain than usual. February started okay too — we’d moved a little further away from strict regulations. Life finally had a new normality about it.
Until it didn’t.
February 28th was the day we flooded.
It’s hard not to be angry, it’s impossible not to get frustrated, and it’s overwhelming the amount of sadness and grief one region can carry on its own.
The night the waters rushed in, my husband and I sat on the couch at 2 am trying to wrap our minds around the fact that just 2 km from our road, there was a young couple launching their boat in the middle of the bush, at least 10 km from the river.
The impossible was happening, and it was happening fast. Boat by boat, our local community members launched from a road that normally brings people to the beach. It brings families to the ocean to spend their day splashing in the water, fishing in the seas and generally soaking up the best life has to offer in our region. Not today, though. Today, the water was no longer our friend. The joy water brings was forgotten. Now, it was dangerous, unpredictable, and inescapable. To think what could have been without the fast and selfless actions of so many is even more heart breaking. That there were few physical lives lost is a blessing.
To be so near to such a catastrophic crisis, yet not be affected first hand, gives a unique perspective. The frantic anxiety I have felt from that day has been on a whole new level. If a non-affected person feels this, how is it a reasonable response to have such limited mental health support for those who were affected? This flood is trauma, this flood is tragedy, this flood is a loss of identity, of purpose. It’s a loss of life, not measured by whether your heart beats or not, but by whether you value your life or not, and even, do you feel valued?
In the many roles I’ve volunteered in since the February floods, I can tell you one thing for certain: our people are half alive. Our people do not feel valued.
I grew up in these streets in Woodburn. If I don’t know them, I can almost guarantee someone in my family or friends’ circle does.
Yes, there are a handful of organisations that have gone above and beyond. Yes, the government may look like getting some housing organised. But guess what? All of that is worth nothing if people aren’t strong enough mentally to keep moving forward. They’ve wrapped up all offers of financial assistance in so much red tape, hardly anyone can access it.
It’s smoke and mirrors; it’s inactivity whilst appearing active. It’s a shameful system and a shameful response.
Our people, for the most part, are proud. Not in an obnoxious way, but a humble way. The number of times I have had to insist someone take a donation is proof of that. “There is someone more in need,” they say. It takes a gentle reminder for them to see, they are the needy.
No one wants to feel so vulnerable; no one likes to feel like their life is out of their own control. And yet, that’s exactly where I see these people standing. For a while, their feet were literally stuck in mud and they were being pulled down. Now the mud has dried, and they’re still stuck. They can’t find their footing, they’re unable to move one foot in front of the other. They’re not asking for the job to be done for them, they’re just asking for someone to offer them a lifeline and pull them from the mud so they can move ahead, literally, and metaphorically.
The rebuild and recovery phase should not just relate to a building or a business. We need to build people up from the inside out. Let them know they are seen, valued and loved.
Right now, this looks like two things: providing real, proper assistance on the ground both mentally and physically, and providing the money they need to rebuild without a huge stress tearing at their existence every day. So far, our region has had very little of either.
In the first couple of weeks, people were devastated but they seemed to carry a silent strength about them. Hopeful about rebuilding, hopeful about assistance, hopeful about returning to normal.
Week after week, that hope has been chipped away.
Our people have no answers to their questions and slowly, the help they still desperately need is dwindling.
Without help from the governments, recovery is unobtainable. Volunteers and charity can only hold up for so long. How are people meant to feel anything but forgotten when clearly, they’ve been walked away from? They’ve had the backs of people that can make a difference, turn on them. To see people in need and see them ignored is a pain that does not sit comfortably.
It’s important to make sure we don’t become complacent and think “they’ve had enough time” or “I’ve helped them enough.” We know the grief of a loved one has no timeline. Why should the grief and loss of everything that proved your existence be any different?
Each person will grieve for a different thing. It’s not a competition, it’s not simply who lost more that warrants them to be the saddest. Trauma and grief appear differently on people too, so watch closely.
Some people even feel they have no right to grieve. “Someone else is worse off so why should I be sad?” You should be because you are. If you are, you’re allowed to be. That’s all there is to it.
I struggled during the first few weeks, beating myself up that I was so sad. I had no right to be sad, I had my home, my business, my family all together. Then I realised you can grieve for memories too.
I feel grief for the memories of the first house we ever lived in, in this area. Bank Street in Woodburn, a house that had an old aviary in the back yard.
I grieve for the times I rode my bike back and forth to friends’ houses. The sleepovers in Richmond Street. My friend’s house on the outskirts of town where there was a mulberry tree.
I grieve for our family friends who lost their homes. I grieve for my sisters who lost their homes. My best friend in Broadwater, my staff members, my school mates’ parents. And that’s just me. Someone who is near but so far removed from the direct tragedy.
Is there an expiry date on compassion?
To those on the inside, I want you to know this.
Although you feel forgotten, you are seen. You are seen by me, and by your community. Not everyone has the freedom of time to give, or unlimited money, but we have heart, and plenty of it.
I know you’re tired. Boy, how tired you must be. I know this because I’m tired too, and I’m not carrying half the weight you are. Please know though, that I’m still here. I can’t do much, but I can listen. I can’t rebuild your house, but I can sit with you whilst you cry. I can’t buy you a car, but I can offer you a lift, and I know many others that can do all that and more too.
Our compassion has no time limit. Our love is a gift card you can redeem at any time.