Today is the first day of a new decade – freshly minted and raw.
Usually, I am excited about what a new year will bring. Today I face the new year with trepidation.
Yesterday I watched in ever-increasing horror as the beaches where I spent many delightful summers as a child were swarmed with people escaping skyscraper-high flames.
My places of childhood laughter suddenly were places of terrifying nightmares.
As the day sky turned to pitch and the sun boiled blood red, I felt the fear of the mothers tightly holding their children against the onslaught, the dread of each person that they had lost everything physical in the world, and the almost unbearable dawning realisation that the brutal day was just the beginning.
Each person on the beach will have to make a reckoning on what is the same in their lives, and what (and who) is now missing or changed.
They will face the survivor’s guilt of their home surviving when friend’s houses did not.
The trauma of firefighters who could not save everything or everyone, while dealing with the frustration of shoddy equipment and sticky-taped communications, will have to be processed.
The loss of the feeling of safety and belonging to a community will take years to mend for many, and the existential terror of trying to stay alive against a ravenous wall of flame will be permanently seared into many people’s brains.
Old landmarks will now be just a memory. Animals, once so plentiful, will now be silent and gone – half a billion animals have perished in the fires.
Stores where you used to have a chinwag, are now just a pile of rubble.
Businesses were wiped out in an instant, while other businesses will now face a long, agonising death while the world slowly rebuilds around them; what they offer no longer a priority where food and shelter needs come first.
For some, this moment of trauma will create the seeds of opportunity. For others, it will create a mental bookmark of the love and support of strangers during times of need. For many, the weight of the moment will become a lifetime burden.
But yesterday was simply one day in weeks of out of control fires burning Australia, destroying wildlife, making the air unbreathable and destroying communities.
There are still many more fires that are currently out of control, and many more families and communities facing uncertain futures.
Against that backdrop, toasting the New Year in with champagne and backslapping felt obscenely blasphemous, and contemptuous of the pain tens of thousands of my fellow Australians were experiencing.
I logically know that my happiness and joy does not make other’s pain lesson – but I still did not feel like celebrating last night.
Fireworks became the last on my list of desirable things to do to ring in the New Year. Celebrating with fire and explosions while so many had just experienced fatal fire and explosions felt sadistically sociopathic.
So how did I spend my New Year’s Eve? Dinner with my children and my much-loved ex-mother-in-law (I divorced the son and kept the most amazing mother-in-law in the world as a friend).
We ate. We reflected on the past decade. We had moments of random silly laughter to distract me from what was happening.
My family reminded me that turning off and disconnecting from world pain sometimes was needed – and that I could not save people by force of will alone but needed time to recharge for the coming inevitable rebuild.
My family tribe of marvellous women were balm to my over-wracked empath soul.
So, with the dawn of the first day of the new decade, what of the way forward?
I don’t have the answers. These are just my initial thoughts to try and process what I saw and experienced over the past few weeks, and are shared in case they help you make sense of things.
People need to process their pain and grief over Australia burning. There will be explosive anger, blame seeking, finger-pointing and victim shaming.
This is a normal and expected part of the healing process, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when you are caught up in the middle of the anger.
People will also be angry with the status quo and models of leadership being exhibited.
This civic anger will be channelled in different ways. Some people will protest. Some will stand for office. Many will simply ignore the existing power structures and work around traditional channels with grass-roots activism and support.
No one form of activism or civic engagement is better or worse than others. If you feel strongly, then speak out and do something.
Positive, empathetic and integrated leadership is needed at all levels of government and community organisations. Step up to the challenge and make the connections between disparate groups. Be the change rather than just observe the need for change.
Many communities, charities and not for profits will need support on an unprecedented scale to help rebuild people, businesses and communities. Think of the Brisbane floods – and magnify it by thousands. That is the magnitude of scale needed in the coming months.
Offer your time, money, resources or support to the level you can, while watching for scammers trying to make a quick buck.
How you can individually help is to be there to listen to individual stories, provide a shoulder to lean on and to help people find the support they need and a positive way forward.
Fact check before sharing on social media and try to manage your own emotional stuff while helping others manage theirs.
Always offer hope where someone has lost theirs. There will be many questioning meaning and their future right now. There will be dark days ahead for many individuals. Check in on people and don’t be afraid to ask RUOK.
When someone speaks, avoid answering with platitudes and religious tracts (unless specifically asked for). These can deepen the wound rather than help heal.
If you struggle with what to say, re-read “There’s No Good Card for This: What to Say When Life is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love” by Dr Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell.
And what of your business?
Know that significant tragedies change people’s buying behaviours. Uncertainty, fear and loss of stability put a brake on many people’s spending. Add this to the signs of a looming recession, and things could be a bit hairy this year.
Explore new revenue sources for your business, reduce expenditure and pay down debt. Look for ways to demonstrate your business trustworthiness, and to highlight the value that your business adds.
Never stop doing your best work, caring for your team and for others, and sharing what you know.
Actively support other small businesses to be the best they can be. Do whatever it takes to help them succeed through whatever goods and services you offer, and through whatever purchases you personally choose.
Thriving small businesses are the lifeblood of communities. Think small. Buy local. Be conscious in your choices and make a difference one purchase at a time.
My hope for you
This new decade roared in on a fireball.
All I can wish is that it may be a decade of positive transformation and stronger communities where we all care just that little bit more, and experience compassion for all of the people we share the planet with.
May we take better care and stewardship of the earth on which we live. All things, creatures and resources are finite. Let’s actively conserve what remains and find more intelligent ways of doing things to sustain life.
For you personally, may you discover and know your true passion and purpose with outstanding clarity. May you unshakeably know, in every fibre of your being, why you are on this earth, what you are destined to do, and what difference you are to make.
May you have the courage to speak your truth, create that masterpiece and to step into your potential.
May you find and plant the seeds of opportunity this year. May you find and muster the resources you need to achieve your dreams, and may life be kind to you, and you experience more joy than sorrow.
And if tragedy strikes, may you find resilience, kindness and hope amongst the ashes.
My heart is with you.