There are four people in my online networks who are directly impacted by the recent Australian bushfires. Their posts punctuate my newsfeed with descriptions of repeated evacuation, observations of the fire’s impact on wildlife or community and acknowledgement of the emotional toll this taking on them. Some of these people are very dear to me. I have stayed in their home, been warmly welcomed by their community, felt relaxed and rejuvenated in their presence.
When I read their posts, the impact of the fires feels close. Particularly when the smoke is blowing across Melbourne. We wake to an orange sun and hazy air. My partner’s asthma gets activated and I go looking for face masks. I feel kind of silly when I wear one (am I being melodramatic?) but I appreciate the difference it makes. The subtle headache that has been building begins to dissipate and I think “Cigarettes, it’s like smoking cigarettes. I don’t want to breathe that in.”
The sadness comes in waves. Mostly I stuff it down under a layer of grumpiness, a mixture of sadness anxiety and rage. I spread generous helpings of grumpiness upon the people in my life and then go to social media and generate more by raging against politicians.
At one point I came across the Wildlife Rescue Craft Group and I was super excited. I am an accomplished crochet master and here, at last, was a helpful task uniquely suited to my skills. No more grumping at everyone and stuffing my face full of chocolate, now I could make pouches for super cute singed wildlife.
The online group was full of heartwarming stories of folks in foreign countries coming together to support the wounded wildlife of Australia with bat wraps and joey pouches. Within days all my warmth evaporated as it became clear that the international fervour had more than met the needs of wildlife carers and their patients. “What about me?” I yelled at my laptop “I’m right here in Melbourne and I need to do something constructive! You bloody bastards have gone and done it all, now there’s nothing left for me.”
I see folks out there feeding wildlife and I want to feed wildlife, I want to make it better. Anything to avoid the small voice in the back of my head saying “It’s January, it’s only January.” and “This is just the beginning, it’s going to get worse.” Years of long, hot summers stretching out ahead, years of bigger and bigger fires, years of background anxiety that starts in December, in November, in October and extends into March and April and May. Years of face masks becoming a common place reality, of cancelling summer camping trips, of summer camping becoming a thing you just don’t do anymore. And the animals, observing the birds that I so love to watch, gradually disappear.
This time the fires haven’t struck the places I have deep long-term connections with but I know it is only a matter of time. I can hear the bell toll. Please give me something to do, anything, anything to drown it out! Anything to avoid the catastrophe that has already been guaranteed by the last twenty years of carbon emissions.
I find myself in a Heart Sharing Circle, sitting with 60 other people in the bottom of the Rialto. We are not here to take action. We are here to feel. We are here to witness and be heard.
I check in with two good friends and use my three minutes to rant about all those greedy foreign crafters. I link it back to colonisation, the Western Settler’s incapacity to grieve, to feel into their impact on the Earth. The grief that might serve to inspire right action, right relationship, the grief that might actually put a check on our voracious industrial appetites and over consumption. The grief that is actually love if only we would turn toward it instead of away into busyness.
“What I really want from all those people overseas is for them to share their grief! I want them to share theirs so that I can be brave enough to feel mine. I want the grief to flow so that it can bring its gifts of connection and love and so that I can feel a little bit less alone.”
All this running around, donating, crafting, visiting with empty chilly bins, organising fundraisers, protesting, coming up with big ideas, “How can I help??? What can I doooooo??” Suddenly revealed as a desperate attempt to avoid the grief that permeates my life like smoke.
And of course, as I make my demands of the mythical ‘them’ I realise the work that is mine. It is time to make use of the capacity I have been cultivating all my life (particularly in the last couple of years) to sit with grief.
There has never been a more urgent time for me to stop and slow down and feel.