Monday, 6 February 2012

Restoring hope after the flood

My joy bubble was definitely burst this week.  Watching my community struggle through the devastation of yet another major flood, watching our friends sit tight and wonder how much water was going through their homes, only to return to discover it was worse than they had imagined.  Hearing stories of families fleeing from their home just minutes before the water gushed in, elderly men crying as their home and all their earthly possessions were ruined making a lifetime of work seem meaningless.  The greatest tragedy of all was the death of a beautiful woman who was loved so deeply by so many.

I found it overwhelming and I was unable to cope or contribute in any meaningful way.  I felt sad, deeply, deeply sad; I could physically feel people’s hearts breaking all around me.  I craved for life to be normal, to just turn back one week, when the schools were opened, people had homes and warm beds and there was plenty of food on the supermarket shelves.  As hundreds of people got in and ripped up carpet, disposed of ruined  furniture, scrubbed walls, made food for strangers, washed, disinfected and washed some more, I could not function.  This just added to the feelings of uselessness and despair.  It seemed foolish because my home hadn’t been flooded, but the feelings were real.

As I watched the news footage of my flooded town, and then saw images of the utter destruction left behind once the water had receded, all I could see was shattered dreams, broken spirits, doubting minds and lost hope.  Yes it was wonderful to see the community pull together and help each other but I could still see the sadness and despair in the eyes of those who had been flooded.  Council will come around and pick up all the rubbish, insurers will hopefully pay out so people can rebuild their house and replace their furniture but the emotional carnage seems extreme.  How will people recover emotionally?  When you walked down the street last week you took for granted the easy laugh, the joyful chatter, the casual wave or wink, all the things that make a town warm and joyful.  Has this been lost, washed away with the dirty, cold destructive water?  How will the town regain that easy, carefree way of life?  As well as a Council water truck delivering clean water we need an emotional energy truck to top up everybody’s supplies.  As well as a new lounge and fridge we need rebuilt dreams and mended trust.  While people talk about how to fund the broken bridges and damaged roads left behind by the flood we must also be conscious of how we can fix the families that feel broken and the real trauma and anxiety left in people’s hearts and minds.

For every wonderful individual with their truck, broom, skip bin etc that are volunteering their time and machinery to the disaster recovery effort their needs to be an equal number of people armed with hope, joy, optimism and stillness and silence.  In the rush to return life to normal sometimes the pain, hurt, anguish and fear get swept under the carpet.  However, time needs to be taken to sit still, to feel the emotions, to process what has happened and to reflect on the past.  All these feelings and emotions need to be recognised so hope can be built for the future.  To ignore the pain and grief is just like putting a coat of paint over a leaking ceiling, it looks great for a little while but after the next storm when the roof leaks again the mould and damp will seep through the paint.  Sure you can keep painting the ceiling for the rest of your life, or until the ceiling caves in completely, or you can find the source of the problem and fix that.  It will probably take more time, be more expensive and generally be an inconvenience that you could live with out, but it is an option worth considering.

So, if you wonder how you can help any of the flood affected communities, donating cash to the various flood appeals is always awesome and I encourage you to do so generously, but you can also think of ways to bring hope and joy back to the lives of the whole community.  Maybe do something in the local schools so the kids laugh again, take the time to listen to somebody if they need to talk about the experience, pray for this region that the pain will heal and the hope, love and joy will return in abundance, even just take more time to love and appreciate your own family and friends.  Restoring hope and joy to these flooded communities is going to be as important as fixing homes and roads.