For a large part of a population a flood is just a television or newspaper story, an abhorrent weather anomaly that holds headlines until the next story breaks. To an insurance assessor it’s an illustration of force majeure, and to a man of the cloth it’s simply an example of His work.
But for those of us who have been through one, and who recently witnessed our city’s rivers rise inevitably towards disaster, it became so much more. For whether we looked on, lost or laboured throughout the floods, our lives were changed forever.
For the people whose homes were inundated with flood waters and who lost everything in return for a home full of viscous mud and debris, it’s a disaster. And for those who lost their loved ones, friends or neighbours it’s a tragedy. But for the thousands of people who swarmed to volunteer centres to offer the most precious of human gifts, time, it was an opportunity to be part of a truly significant moment.
Like thousands of other Brisbanites I made my way to a designated volunteer centre where I was equipped with hat, gloves and sunscreen, then dispatched by bus to an area in need. I suspect like most of the other people on the bus I didn’t know many of my fellow passengers, but soon after we debussed and recognised the gargantuan task before us, trivial social conventions like names didn’t matter anymore.
As we moved sodden couches and clothing, wedding photos and toys, I never had the time to ask the names of the men and women working alongside me. At one point I thought I recognised a guy helping me heft flaccid mattresses and not so white goods into a dump truck. Up until today he was just another face that passed in the street without comment or consideration, but on this day he was a friend.
And when our backs began to ache and the carnage became too heavy to heave, it was the stout man I’d mentally labelled ‘Santa’ and his 10 year old son who came to our rescue. His ceaseless cheery chitchat as he toiled, whilst his not yet teenage son carried whatever his little arms could hold, where uplifting and gratefully welcome distractions for us all.
But loading trucks with the spoilt contents of people’s homes was only one part of the overall operation. The steady stream of women arriving on the scene with donated #bakedrelief goods and a never-ending supply of water were a God send. And the thankful banter with bus drivers on the way to and from the sites was a blessing.
But most significantly there was the property owner who we silently watched as he took a moment to pull himself together after a hoard of us literally crashed through what had once been his front door to help him and his family remove the remains of what had once been the spoils of a loving family home.
Cities have a nasty habit of cocooning and isolating its populace, so I’m grateful for these tragic events that remind us at the times when we may feel most alone, lost and lonely, that no matter how big the city, or how few people we may have as FaceBook friends, there are complete strangers out there who are willing to give up their time to prove that people care and that we are never truly alone.
*Photo courtesy of NEWS.com.au