How we live today predicts our tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and when the tomorrows pile up we have a bunch of memories that will make up this twelve-month time capsule forever remembered as … what? How we remember these times depends on how we’ve lived during these times. It is important for me to live in these days to the best of my ability, and I’m finding that hard to do.
Here are some of the things I’ll remember about this early part of 2020.
I’ll remember it as a year that started before it even started. I’ll remember it started on New Year’s Eve of 2019: the final day of the final month of the year. The day when a firestorm thundered through our village wiping out 89 houses in our small neck of the woods. On that day residents of our 55+ lifestyle village watched as the homes of two families burnt to the ground. The day we were powerless. The day the hot wind raced around whipping the fire in every direction. The day the fire gained such momentum we called it a firestorm.
That day is etched in my mind, no doubt the minds of countless others, as the day our world changed. The day our perception of our invincibility hit the wall. The day we realised how tenuous our grasp on this wonderful, big, bold and beautiful life really is. And how vulnerable each and every one of us is.
It was the day our higher education stood to the side and our super duper blue chip shares sat mute: they were powerless too. On that day the playing field was levelled. We were in it together as we stood side by side, bucketing water up and down the human line to those two houses. As we battled to keep neighbours’ parched lawns from ember attack. And the day we realised that we were powerless despite fire hydrants on every street corner because when all hydrants are in use in every corner of the village the pressure is reduced to a trickle.
I’ll remember how we yelled to each other and neighbours, through smoke so thick we could hardly breath, just so we knew where others were and so we could ensure they got to safety. And when we knew we could do no more we barricaded ourselves in our homes, put damp towels along the bottom of doors and waited.
The power lines were long gone but we did have gas so we put the billy on and made ourselves a cuppa. Maybe we had lunch too, but as soon as the smoke dissipated we were outside with others, again doing what we could.
Our village was cut off and thus isolated and the fire that swept through our haven was not forecast and therefore not on any fire watch radar. It caught every emergency service on the hop. Consequently, we were without fire services until the two homes in our immediate village had all but burned themselves out.
Eventually a water-bombing helicopter arrived and was responsible for saving a third house from the fires. But eventually that was called away. Did even he realise the homes were a lost cause? The anguish was palpable as faces turned skywards and watched the pilot steer the water bearing sky beast away.
I’ll remember how angry we were when the first sighting of any official looking person was one with MEDIA emblazoned across his back. Wielding his camera into every corner of our vulnerability felt like a desecration, like the photos snapped our dignity and privacy.
But we were powerless to stop the process that would forever record our fragility. We stood, powerless as we wondered when and if help would ever arrive.
I’ll remember the four men who steered our village through the fires and how quickly regular debriefings were set up. An SES (Special Emergency Services) operations manager (Hi R); another a volunteer firefighter of 40 years (Hi R); the third a volunteer firefighter in previous years with brilliant people skills (Hello N) and the fourth had worked in strategic control of some kind( Hi C). And I’ll remember how each of them spoke to their area of expertise. It was a good team. My heroes. Our heroes.
And then I’ll remember New Year’s Eve 2019 as we sat outside the Clubhouse, overlooking the carnage, sipping drinks and nibbling at cheese and crackers. We sat there, a handful of us, with the people who had lost their homes and talked and talked and talked. And then we cried and cried. And we held hands and talked some more and then we cried.
We didn’t see the new year in. There didn’t seem to be anything to celebrate. We found a bed for those who had lost homes and we went home to our now smoky haven.
But then I’ll remember how we pulled ourselves out of that dismal place of shock and trauma. How we rallied, talked, played boardgames and pooled food and skills and lived for a while as a tiny community of 30 bodies isolated from the outside world. No services in or out for the first while until fallen power lines could be removed from the road. Then restricted and essential services were permitted on the roads. And our Fab 4 Team of Heroes kept our spirits buoyed as they relayed information from vital services to which they had hot lines.
I remember Camp Leader and Camp Mother (Hi L & B) who organised the kitchen, food supplies and coordinated the grocery lists and later the donated food and clothing items. It was a thankless task which they did well. I’ll remember how incredibly well we ate that first week as we emptied our freezers and then our fridges before food spoiled.
Each evening the thrity of us who chose to remain in the village gathered in the Clubhouse to watch the news. One of The Fab 4 had rigged up a generator and plugged a TV into it so we pulled comfy chairs into a semi-circle and watched the disasters unfold on the screen – like living through them wasn’t enough. By the time the news had ended the cooks of the day were ready to serve dinner.
We looked forward to the evening meal, especially the desserts. When electricity was still not restored after a week we became creative with our menus but we ate like kings and we ate together at the Clubhouse. I’ll remember the laughs and recipe swapping and discovering who likes wine and which of us are top-shelfers.
And then, stone the crows!
Three weeks after the fires we got floods. And three months after the floods we have COVID-19. Seriously! 2020 will be a memorable year for three natural disasters we survived but it will also be for so much more.
I’ll remember forging new friendships during the fires. Friendships I treasure and miss now that we are away from home. I’ll remember the angst I felt during those times and how they were tempered as I reigned in my thoughts.
I know 2020 has changed us. The year has left its indelible mark on my heart and mind, perhaps even my psyche. But it has been a good year too.
One that has brought times of peace and calm and now this enforced stillness. A time to brood, ruminate and bandy thoughts about without the usual intrusions of life. I’m embracing these times to reevaluate my values, revisit the purpose for which I am living each day and perhaps even recalibrate how I balance my daily activities. I know that what seemed so pervasively important before New Year’s Eve 2019 was so insignificant I can’t even remember what it was that drove me.
During tough times we tend to build a safety net for ourselves. We protect ourselves from taking even small risks. When we do this, we refuse to acknowledge or embrace our vulnerabilities. We deny our authentic selves a showing. And eventually we become dissatisfied with our lives. But life can be full of adventure if we can let go and step into it.
I sit each morning with a daily meditation (The Daily Stoic) whose philosophy reminds me that the only thing over which I have control is my mind. I have no control over anything outside my head and trying to control those things brings only angst.
These meditations keep me aware of how I am colouring my thoughts. They help me remember that what I choose to dwell on will ultimately affect my behaviour and mood. Ultimately my decisions will be affected and framed by the colour of these thoughts; and these flow on to tweak my perspective of life and people.
That’s how I’ll remember these first months of 2020. How about you?
I’m curious. How will you remember 2020?