Things happen like what happened overnight (Australian time) and it’s a shock to the system. You wake to the shocking news and you stand around watching it unfold. Everyone is silent, both listening hard and unsure about what to say. Occasionally there’s a murmured comment about how shocking it is, how sad, how terrible. The news unspools on our screen and we watch before we are torn away to prepare for the day ahead.
It’s on the radio too in the car on the way to work. Big voiced radio DJ’s who would normally be cracking gags are instead solemn. The music plays on in between, oblivious of the news. The traffic shifts and surges about you, just like on any other day, but it’s different.
You get your coffee. The usual easy banter seems inappropriate, so it’s all business. You get your coffee and sit down in the corner with the newspaper. None of them carry the news of the disaster. You scan twitter and other online sources for news. There’s all sorts of news, official and personal. You read feeling much of it yourself. There is a community of grief and outrage, and you are part of it. Yes you think as you read these things, that’s what I feel, think, that’s what I understand.
It’s difficult to write about catastrophe’s like this without sounding trite. There are no words really to describe such things. There’s no point even trying. Right now it’s too close. The shock of it is still numbing. Reaction is fragmentary.
What I do know – and this sounds a trite cliché – is that a disaster such as this jolts you into some kind of perspective. You can wallow in your own petty miseries forgetting there is a wider world out there, and much worse things. That’s not to say your personal concerns are not legitimate, just that they are just a small part of an infinite spectrum.
We’ll see how this pans out. Besides the personal loss there is a broader geo-political significance. This could go anywhere. We think we know what roughly happened, but there is bound to be more surprises along the way.
Edit: this tragedy seems even more immediate when you learn that many of the travellers were booked onto a connecting flight to Melbourne, my home town. Many would be returning home, but the bulk of them it seems were coming here for the AIDS Conference. Very sad knowing that people who should be walking the streets here instead will never arrive.