Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – December 31, 2004

Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – December 31, 2004

Saying Good-Bye

Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – December 31, 2004 – In my lifetime, I’ve said good-bye without a backward glance or a twinge of regret. I’ve said good-bye in a muddle of confusion and with an aching heart. I was blessed to be able to say good-bye to my brother Mike, my Mother and my Father, as I stood beside their coffins and quietly said the 23rd Psalm in their honour.

I’ve said good-bye to dear friends taken by God too soon for my understanding, but not for His. I’ve said an anguished farewell to beloved pets as life slipped silently from their small bodies. I’ve watched the loss of human life on the television news on both a small and a grand scale. I know that every day somebody, somewhere – by choice or by circumstance – has to say good-bye.

In light of the events this week in the Indian Ocean – the topic of “good-bye” is an apt one. The underwater earthquake off the coast of Sumatra lasted five minutes and measured a staggering 9 out of a possible 9.5 on the Richter Scale. Within an hour the resulting tsunami ripped ashore at Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Sumatra, the south east coast of India and Malaysia and brought a tide of death and destruction on a scale unsurpassed in modern history. Many of these areas were paradises of emerald green, vacation spots of exquisite beauty. Now these countries are experiencing a tragedy wrought by the fury of Nature.

If the land was their stable father, it was nurtured by the mother sea. A sea that provided a livelihood, food, water, transportation and nourishment. But in a matter of moments the sea unleashed a wave of devastation that travelled as far inland as four kilometres. The waves of water had the power to lift a four tonne boat and toss it in the air like a toy. On Sumatra a yacht with its six man crew was carried four kilometres inland by the force of the wave sand finally came to rest against a mosque. The six people on board all survived.

A train running along the coast of Sri Lanka, named “The Queen of the Sea” was carrying over a thousand people. It was only a hundred metres from the beach when the tsunami struck, flinging it into the air, uprooting the steel tracks and twisting them into grotesque pretzels. Nine hundred of the train’s passengers perished.

Now in the aftermath of the sea’s fury there is chaos, fear and death. The last newscast I watched estimated the death toll at over 190,000 with a third of those lost being children. Entire towns and cities have disappeared, fishing villages were instantly vaporized – their entire populations gone. Everywhere in the region homes are gone, jobs lost and entire families missing or dead. Up to five million people have been displaced. In stricken communities, the problems centre around a lack of fresh drinking water, the disruption of plumbing and sewage systems, the burying of the dead, the threat of disease and potential epidemics.

The aftershocks are still terrifying people and false reports of more tsunamis have kept people in a state of constant agitation. One Buddhist temple with only three bathrooms is attempting to house three thousand people. There are message boards everywhere with the pictures of missing people posted on them. A final cry for help in the search for family members and friends. People everywhere have lost primary and extended families. Thousands of children have been orphaned, the family breadwinner is gone and in some cases the entire populations of small villages are no more. Hospitals are overwhelmed, medical supplies are dwindling, looting is rampant and violence has broken out over food and water.

The response from the international community, The Red Cross UNICEF, World Vision and the United Nations to name a few has been immediate and dramatic. Over half a billion dollars in aid has been pledged and has started to arrive. Local communities are helping one another and people everywhere are helping with the relief drive and trying to ensure that “the right kind of aid gets to the right places”.

Behind every event of this magnitude are the human stories. Strangers extending a hand to help strangers – race, colour, creed, religion and social status forgotten. For a lucky few, families have been reunited and friends have found loved ones. Some people who were diving at the time experienced the tsunami as it passed overhead. Other who had gone hiking were far inland and were removed from the wrath of the sea. Miraculously, hardly any animals perished. They have a sixth sense about the danger and most had moved inland to higher ground and safety.

The tsunami struck on Boxing Day. The aftermath of the destruction is unimaginable and the loss of life unprecedented from a naturally occurring disaster. The cost in dollars is estimated to be upward of eighteen billion. This figure will rise as time goes by and the true consequences of the disaster can be calculated. What can’t be measured is the human misery. It is estimated that one in every four people in the devastated areas have lost someone close to them For the thousands of people affected there is no time to mourn. Just living from one day to the next is an enormous struggle – the pain and sorrow unstoppable. For those waiting for any word of their missing loved ones, the hours must be gruelling, hope mixed with despair and the former lessening as the days pass. Memorial services are already taking place around the world as news arrives to confirm people’s worst fears, and friends and family gather around those who have suffered a loss.

On the coastal areas most affected by the raging wall of water, many people looked on helplessly as their friends, children and family members were swept away. Roads have been washed out, buildings destroyed, homes are gone, possessions are no more. For all the people who have lost someone dear to them in this sudden and violent disaster, there was no chance to say good-bye, no last minute hug or term of endearment – only an ending – sudden, shocking and brutal.

The outpouring of help after the tsunami shows us what the international community is capable of doing in an overwhelming crisis. Nations respond without debate and rancour in times of crisis. Why can’t we remember this as we attempt to find balance, fairness and peace throughout our troubled world? On a much smaller scale, it would serve us well as individuals to find kind, patient and generous ways to treat one another in our homes, schools and workplaces.

The human condition isn’t so different the world over. We all have a love of country, home and family. We need friends to support us, to celebrate our victories and support us when we’re defeated. We need help when we’re in trouble and we have a duty to assist others in need and those less fortunate.

Think for a moment about your personal relationships and the problems that exist within them. How many of the issues that you have with other people are really significant? How many are related to pride – yours or theirs? How many little hurts won’t matter in an hour or a day? How long do you carry a grudge? How far will you allow guilt or envy to drive you from someone dear to you? How long will you go before you apologize to a friend for something you did that was unkind? When will you learn the freeing power of forgiveness? Do you believe that you’re immune from emotional pain or that you’ll never suffer a great personal loss? When was the last time you stepped forward to really help someone else in need?

If you had to think about these questions for awhile – it’s been too long since you last apologized, forgave, made a contribution or offered a helping hand. This doesn’t matter because it’s never too late to start anew. If all your relationships are in fine working order, kindness has been extended, unresolved problems have been worked through and love has been given and received – your life will be in fine form.

What if you lost someone dear to you? Naturally a sense of shock would follow, coupled with the need to grieve in your own manner and in your own time, but you wouldn’t have to suffer the incalculable pain of living with the recriminations of things said in haste or in anger. Think about this when you wave good-bye to family or friends. What if this was the last time you ever saw that person? I’m not suggesting that we live with thoughts of doom and gloom hanging about our necks like the proverbial albatross, but I think living in the present moment with awareness is an intelligent way to approach life.

I was blessed to see my brother the night before he died and we parted with a loving embrace, my Mother a week before she passed away and my father the morning before his death. I said “good-bye” to them, offered them my love and a warm smile. That was their last remembrance of me. Good-bye happens the world over. Take the time to make your good-byes lasting ones.

Now as the minutes tick by on this 31st day of December I must bid adieu to the written word. I’m filled with more emotion than I’d ever have expected when I sat and pondered a “topic du jour” and silently cursed my foolish commitment of a year ago. I won’t be penning a story tomorrow. I’ve said all that comes to mind. My life remains a blessed one. My gratitude comes from the heart – warm and soft. I’ve opened the sealed blue envelope that I wrote a year ago today. It contained two lists. One represented the way I saw myself on that day – the other was the woman I’d like to become. 

I’ve made some progress on both lists. I think I’ll write a another declaration today and seal it up for 2005. I could just use the lists from 2004 but that would be a bit cheeky. Really, some of my priorities have changed. I don’t feel the need to create yet another three ring binder full of goals and plans. I think this is the softer side of my soul coming into ascendance. How refreshing. I know the things I want to do and the way I’d like to live – the person I’d like to be.

Perhaps this year I’ll re-visit the story I wrote in 1999 called The Bear Chronicles and go to work on it. Those wonderful furry little creatures, the product of my imagination, are still there lurking in my mind. They must be quietly wondering why I abandoned them mid-stream. After this year I know I can write. I’m certainly not saying I’m a writer, but I can put pen to paper.

This year has taught me that I do indeed have my Mother’s grit, my Father’s soft heart and more than just a bit of that imp known as Goozo. This has been a path fraught with uncertainty, determination, moaning, little triumphs, forgotten memories, silliness, laughter, disbelief and wonder. In the end, pure and simple, it was a gift I gave myself. If I can do this – I can do anything to which I set my heart and mind. This means that you can – anyone can! It’s a choice.

As words slip through my fingers like fine white sand and drift back down to earth, I’m sad to be letting go. Some good-byes are easy, others more final and a little harder to express. I think I’ll pick the easy way out. The Alphabet Boys are waiting patiently at my feet for breakfast. It has been a flight of fancy for me, but now I’ve landed. I’m safe and sound – somewhat wiser, more assured. A little softer around my hard edges. All that is left really is “Good-Bye” and “God Speed”. I am silent for now.