At some point it all becomes too much to take in. When the numbers of expected dead become 10,000 plus you struggle to think of it in real terms. I grew up in a country town of 2,000, so that would mean it and 4 other similar sized towns are gone – everyone in them dead. And you realise that means that like any town, the profile of the dead will be like the profile of the population – there will be young and old.
Even on a per capita basis the number is too large to grasp. 10,000 (and even that number seems a hopeful maximum) would be the equivalent of a disaster occurring in Australia that took around 1760 lives. To put that in context, the horrible Black Saturday Victorian Bushfires of 2009 killed 173 people. Half a million people are in evacuation centres… again – that would be like around nearly 89,000 people in Australia. Except in reality we don’t get to do the maths to make the figure small: half a million people displaced; 10,000 dead.
How the hell do you begin to rebuild?
Coming on top of the tragedy in Christchurch and the floods and cyclones in Queensland it all just overwhelms.
And so you donate again, and you worry again about friends.
As I’ve written before, I spent a year in 1989 living in Japan as an exchange student. Thankfully my host parents (who visited last year) live 35km south east of Tokyo so they were in no danger, but still you worry, and hope that the nuclear power station in Fukushima does not end as bad as you think it could. You then think about the 50 workers who are battling the fires and the explosions in the station and doing all they can to make things safe and stable, and you wonder, how do you volunteer to do something like that? Could I? Would I? And please God may I never have to make a similar choice.
On Sunday I joked with a friend that would we be seeing a press conference mirroring that in The Simpsons where Mr Burns says of Homer:
His bravery and quick thinking have turned a potential Chernobyl into a mere Three Mile Island.
Now it’s kind of at the point where you would almost be happy with a “mere” Three Mile Island.
I have had to stop looking at the images and vision. It has gone beyond providing me with news – the devastation is clear, the loss of life is obvious. This is not to deride the journalists there – in fact I think the coverage of the aftermath (since Monday) has been brilliant: honest and not mawkish; informative and not hyperbolic; though not in anyway discounting the hyperbole of the tragedy (though I must admit I have only watched ABC and bits of Sky). But there’s only so much I can take before I start to feel almost numb to it – as though only the pictures of a baby being saved will bring more emotion – and I don’t want to slip into that zone.
I still read the reports and listen to the amazing coverage on ABC radio, but I am trying to avoid the TV.
I don’t need to see it, it is enough to know, and there are things I don’t want to see.
One thing worth seeing is this clip which circulated around on Twitter by a few on YouTube of an animation of the series of earthquakes since 9 March. It is quite stunning and haunting in its own way.
And yet that is not all we have to comprehend.
In Africa and the Middle East death and killing are in overdrive. Take this cheery introduction to a story for The World Today:
BRENDAN TREMBATH: Martial law has been declared in the tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain to try to quell weeks of protest by the country's Shi'ite Muslim majority.
At least three people have died in clashes between protesters and government backed security forces.
As Bahrain cracks down on opponents, heavy fighting continues in Libya between government and rebel forces. Colonel Gaddafi's troops have isolated the last major town remaining between Tripoli and the rebel stronghold of Benghazi. The Libyan leader says he is determined to crush the rebellion and warns of a Holy War with the West.
Mark Colvin of the ABC’s PM released some audio of a Bahraini man who was shot at while talking to him. There’s no shooting in this audio clip, but the fear in the man’s voice is obvious.
The reports from Bahrain are not good.
Military troops have opened a large-scale assault against hundreds of anti-government protesters occupying a landmark site in Bahrain's capital.
The focal point for Bahrain's demonstrators was again overrun by riot police in a nationwide crackdown aimed at crushing the two-month anti-government uprising.
Smoke was billowing from the site, known as Pearl roundabout, and the scent of teargas wafted through many locations in Manama.
Gunfire was heard throughout the capital and at least five helicopters were circling scenes of clashes, amid widespread panic on the streets below.
On the domestic side of things we have a breakout of asylum seekers on Christmas Island being shot by police with “bean bag bullets” which I’m going to suggest are a bit less fun than they sound.
It would be nice if this would lead to a sensible debate, and yet the only solution we get from the other side is “stop the boats”. Given Libya and Bahrain, I don’t see that happening any time soon….
Whatever happens on the domestic front, one thing we know is that when parliament resumes next week, it will begin, as it has each time it has resumed this year, with a condolence motion due to a natural disaster.
May it be the last this year.
And so we carry on. We cannot stop our own lives because of horror elsewhere. And I don’t think we should feel guilty about having a laugh either, even on a day where there is so much horror to be found wherever you choose to look. I think in perhaps reaction to the grim news around the world things actually got a bit silly today – so for example we had Tony Abbott being asked this on FM radio in Wollongong:
PRESENTER: Seriously, so, the only question I want to know is were you thinking of having a chest wax any time soon?
TONY ABBOTT: What, to get rid of my love rug?
(I hope you’re not eating).
We also had a bit of a go round of the vision of the Israeli model with fake breasts getting bitten by a snake.
But for me the best relief was found on the CollegeHumour.com website where Simon Pegg and Nick Frost do their own version of Star Wars.
As Matt Price said, “Life is fragile, hug your loved ones”… and I would also add – Do what you can. Keep informed. But don’t forget how to laugh either.