Look to the light through the smoke

By John Lewis

The Shepparton skies this week have been filled with a reminder of sorrow, bravery and tenacity just beyond our borders.

As the bushfires continue to devastate lives and communities around us, our newsfeeds are filled daily with urgent warnings and terrible images of destruction and suffering.

As always, social media is a double-edged sword in these situations. On the one hand it can cut through the fog and deliver immediate and valuable emergency information.

But with the other hand, social media feeds apprehension and fear. Awful pictures of burnt family homes, landscapes and animals fill our heads at night. We wake to be greeted with yet more images of anguish.

The most sensible Facebook post I have seen this week urges people to switch off, for the sake of their mental health.

This is sensible advice. Unless you live in a fire-prone area, you do not need to keep scrolling for more bushfire information. The soul can take only so much sadness before it shrinks into itself and the world becomes a dark, ominous place controlled by unstoppable forces.

Along with the smoke, a wave of anger and blame-seeking has also arrived. It's the damn Greens. It's the inept government. It's climate change. It's the natural order. It's the lack of fuel reduction. It's red tape. It's a left-wing conspiracy. It's a right-wing conspiracy. It's Rupert Murdoch. It's internet bots and trolls.

A recent column by News journalist James Bennett criticising Prime Minister Scott Morrison on his leadership during this testing time angered two News readers whose furious responses were published yesterday.

Facebook and the Twittersphere are awash with argument and finger-pointing.

I took a phone call this week from a man so fuelled by anger he was incapable of speaking in whole sentences.

Grief is a universal human emotion — and it seems we are all now undergoing a collective grief. We are travelling through the grief tunnel and experiencing the classic stages: shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, reconstruction and working through, and finally acceptance.

At the moment, it appears we are stuck in the carriage of anger, and we have some way to go before we reach the end of the tunnel.

But as with all things human, there is light among the darkness.

In this case, the lights are the massive upsurge in generosity, with millions of dollars raised across the world from celebrities to Sikhs and Muslims and country morning teas; the indomitable spirit of those fighting in the front line of fire; the compassionate care for the suffering of animals; the hay-runs from struggling farmer to struggling farmer; and then the remarkable round-the-clock fire emergency coverage provided by the ABC, which always steps up in times like these. Without our ABC radio, many lives would have been made worse, if not lost.

Finally we should not forget the resilience of the bush itself. Fragile life will eventually push its way through and return to the world as it has always done.

These are the things I will be thinking of during these dark days. I urge you all to do the same.