I’d seen it before. How often had I sat and watched it through the eyes of the news cameraman. How flippant were the emotions I expressed to those around me to the suffering of those poor people on TV. Until you have lived through it yourself, how can you offer any sort of sympathy to those “ poor people” on TV? How untrue were my words “I can imagine how they feel”? I couldn’t. Until you survive a cyclone nothing you can do, or even imagine, can ever prepare you for the living hell that a cyclone can place you in.
When I was finally allowed back into what remained of my town I was lost – literally. All the iconic landmarks of my youth were gone. I tried to find my way back to my house but with not even a street sign left standing I ended up driving around in circles. Houses could be rebuilt, but in those first moments as I surveyed the damage that had been unleashed, I wondered whether or not the town could be rebuilt. A town is more than the buildings in it, a town is the people, good and bad, that allows a town to exist. More importantly the town’s lifeblood is drawn from the spirit that these people pour into its everyday ebb and flow.
Where were we to go now? Almost nothing was left of the life that I had once led. My will to rebuild seemed to be draining away as quickly as the receding floodwaters. Parking my car, I joined the throng of people wandering the streets of this small tropical town. Debris was scattered everywhere with each mound of vegetation hiding the possibility of an injury to a physical body that was already struggling with its own mental injuries. The devastation shown in the mid morning light was affecting everyone – not just me. Women and men were crying, strangers were finding what solace they could in the embrace of others. Some were just sitting quietly on the ground with despair etched into their already pale faces.
I walked slowly up the main street looking for familiar faces. I didn’t know where I was walking, just knowing that I had to keep moving. Splintered timbers and shards of glass from the shops littered both footpath and roadway, along with the remains of the bricks pulverized from the force of colliding with each other at the height of the cyclone. The wind so ferocious during the cyclone that not a roof tile or sheet of roofing iron would be found within a ten mile radius of the town. The car yard looked like it had held a going out of business sale with not a car left on the lot – they would never be found and the car yard would go out of business.
I finally found myself, along with many other citizens of this small tropical town, standing and looking with amazement at one of the few landmarks that had survived. Since 1920, the statue commemorating those men and women who had served and died in the Great War of 1914-18 had stood in the centre of town. It had seen more cyclones and storms than anyone living in the town today yet had still managed to survive. It read simply – “For Those Who Have Served – Lest We Forget” and then named those sons and daughters of the town.
In the coming days and weeks it became a rally point for the town. Every evening people gathered to talk with others who were in a similar situation. Spirits were reinvigorated, spiritual and physical assistance freely offered and gratefully accepted, new friendships forged.
The cyclone may have physically devastated those inanimate objects that made up the town however it could never destroy the internal fortitude of the people who made the town what it was. The spirit of those who had died in the Great War was still alive today in the people who now lived in the town. Like those who had gone before, they too had an indomitable spirit that would ensure that this town survived into the future no matter how many cyclones it would face in the years ahead.
As for me, I found where my house once was. I rebuilt just like my neighbours did and decided that never again would I act so flippant when viewing tragic news on the TV. If you haven’t been through it, you can never truly know.
Another go at writing something.