The sun rose this morning under a blue-grey cloud, giving a strange yellow light. The wind is stretching and tearing at every living thing. It whistles, and it sets objects banging. Part of the cardboard seal Claudia has made around the front door has blown in. A few weeks ago when the wind pushed the seal open, a little snake came in. Waking this morning I step from my room out into the house to find no animals but us here.
Bizarrely, at 7am, one of the town workmen is using a leaf blower. The whining growl competes with the magnificent wind. I’m wondering why he thinks that blowing the leaves away from the path is useful on a wild day like this. Perhaps he has an obnoxious supervisor to please. Claudia laughs and says, “Maybe he stands against the wind at the edge of his pathway, saying ‘It stops right here!’ to the leaves and sticks.”
These past few days we’ve been following the news from Fiji, where Cyclone Winston has been leaving a trail of destroyed and flattened houses. A recently widowed woman cries, partly from the terror wreaked by the disaster, partly from the grief of her bereavement. Her son, slender and grave, shows the reporter around the ruin of their house. “The first parts of these fingers are gone,” he explains, gesturing to his heavily bandaged hand, held in a sling like a useless, padded club. “They were crushed and the bones all broken.” I wonder who bandaged it, imagining a kind neighbour tending him in his shock as houses continue to crash around them.
Claudia has lifelong friends living in a boat in Fiji. After 24 hours of tense silence, we receive a message. Accompanying the email are photographs from the harbour: surrounding boats thrown up onto shore, broken and breaking; the concrete jetty smashed into a collection of broken stepping stones. Their little boat, fastidiously anchored, somehow held fast.
Later I walk to work. The wind is still rocking the trees, pulling at my hat. Pausing, I see an army of little ants dismantling a shiny, black beetle. It’s not windy down at ground level. Even within a wild storm there are always some busy ants who are unaffected. And conversely, you don’t have to be in a giant disaster to suffer. One of our patients lost the tips of his fingers in an accident a while ago.
I can’t say that I know how it would feel to have the small purchase I have on this world blown away by a fierce wind, to have your house torn up as if it were made of wet cardboard. But I’ll bet that the man who lost his fingertips here would feel a special connection to the young man in Fiji if he saw him on the news with his bandaged hand. We all have life experience that grows compassion in us.
My maternal grandfather lived through the dispossession of Aboriginal land. In New South Wales in the early 1920’s, Thunghutti people were put on the backs of trucks and taken away. Grandad grieved the loss of land and culture — the destruction, he felt at times, of that ancient connection. But he held on to the thread. His mother must have felt at times that she was living through the end of the world. My paternal grandfather had his hand amputated in a wood-working accident when he was twenty-two. He travelled through the Depression as an itinerant agricultural worker with Lil and the four children far away at home. He also knew about grief and loss. He kept going, too. The good women my grandfathers loved fostered resilience in each of them.
My parents — nurtured by those loving, harried, hard-working mothers — built good lives for themselves. They defied the loss they had witnessed. They built a ground for me to stand on. I was nourished with meat and two vegetables every night, cereal and milk in the mornings, shoes and uniforms and sandwiches for school. I was taught to enjoy books.
The stories we are born into and the experiences we grow through in life foster emotional intelligence and compassion. I trust that the huge roots of taro and cassava have survived and that the pigs are still rooting around and making trouble in Fiji. I know the little fish are teeming. I wish the people there clean water, shelter, food and love. And I wish them, eventually at least, meaning and growth out of the fear and desolation.