I’m going to preface this by saying this is a long post and I apologize for that and also for the heavy conversation on a Friday night. Bear with me.
Yesterday I read an article another writer shared about the phrase, “everything happens for a reason”. In the article the woman spoke of her multiple miscarriages and how that platitude was painful and cruel.
I understand that because in the throes of painful life experiences it can feel like someone is discounting the unfairness of the situation or devaluing the pain you feel when they say these things.
Sometimes there is no right thing to say. Especially when it comes to pregnancy loss because “I’m sorry” doesn’t really cut it. Sometimes people want to not talk about it. Sometimes they need to in order to process it.
I have been on both ends of that conversation. The one with the painful raw wound that is being offered comfort, and the person presented with someone in unseen agony and awkwardly realising that of the thousands of words at my disposal…none are going to help. I’ve known when people have offered me a platitude that they’re doing the best they can. They’re at a loss, bereft of words and what they say doesn’t really matter, what they’re offering me is love.
This world is such a strange place. I don’t really understand it and sometimes I wish I didn’t think so much because I think about EVERYTHING and it’s exhausting. I think that despite the differences between faith and science both are seeking the same purpose – to make sense of what the hell is going on. And there are two options here. Everything is guided by some force, which basically means all our major life changing moments are pre-ordained – fate, hand of God, destiny, divinely ordered. Or it’s chaotic random, in which case there is no reason or logic to anything at all.
I can’t live like that.
If everything is chaotic random then does anything really matter? It sends me into existential crisis and I may as well drink poison and be done with it.
Most people I have met are not true chaotic random believers. Even if they don’t believe in God sometimes things will happen they can’t explain and they seek to justify it in some way. I’ve met self proclaimed atheists who believe in karma. Which is a form of faith in itself.
In 2011 I was caught in the worst flooding in Brisbane in decades. I was about 20 weeks pregnant and I was shooting my last wedding for the season. I had taken the five kids to Brisbane with me and we were staying at my grandparents. My ex husband was working away in WA on the other side of the country. I expected to stay for two nights. I left the animals at home, the cats and chickens with enough food and water to last two days. It was raining before I left. I worried the roads would wash out and I wouldn’t make it to the wedding, but the day I left it receded a bit and I made it down. It rained on and off the day of the wedding. Then it poured. I waited an extra day at my grandparents, the roads were cut the way I usually went home. And then I got some texts from a friend that lived near me saying her husband was driving down through Toowoomba. She kept in contact with me and when he made it down I left immediately.
This is when things happened that didn’t usually happen that I can’t explain. Firstly, I had never had a car phone charger before but that day my mother had given me a spare one she had saying she didn’t need two. Secondly, I stopped in at a petrol station and filled not just my main fuel tank but also the reserve – something I never did. Next, I called into shops to buy snacks and for some unknown reason I bought a lot of food for the 2.5 hour drive. Bananas, bread, water etc. I did all this very quickly, as though I was in a rush. I had $1000 cash on me – me, who never carries any cash and lives off cards.
We drove towards Toowoomba, me eyeing the churning water under bridges as we drove over them, following my phones directions because I had never driven that way before. I could barely see through the rain. I followed the tail lights of the ute in front of me, when he swerved, I swerved…he could see the potholes before I could, chunks of bitumen removed from the rain that was relentlessly bearing down on us. Just after Helidon we were near a place called Tomatoland and the guy stopped. Cars in front of him were stopped and we were about 10 maybe 15 cars back. People were getting out of their vehicles. I opened my door and looked out.
You know that scene in Lord of the Rings when Arwen calls the river to wash away the wraiths following them? And the river turns to horses barrelling down the banks? That was what I saw. Crossing the highway, bashing through Tomatoland. There was no river, it was just flooding from what looked like no where.
What I didn’t realise – none of us did – was that Toowoomba had just experienced flash flooding. On the top of a fucking hill. People were being swept away, people were dying. And all that water was rushing down the mountain, down the range and heading straight for us. If I had been 15 minutes earlier we would have been on that range on our way up the mountain. We would have died.
We waited ages. Maybe an hour before some folks started crossing the highway and turning around. At this point I decided to head back to my grandparents. I turned around and started back. The water was now moving through a gully to our left. It was inundating houses, a boat drifted by, smashing into trees and continuing on. I told the kids not to look. Soon we were stopped again by SES. We were a few cars back. She said the bridge in front had washed out and we had to wait. I asked if we were safe. She didn’t know. I asked if I could get back to Helidon. She didn’t know. There was another bridge after this one. If we made it through this one we would have to wait again before the next bridge. If we got through there, we would have made it to Helidon. I called around to see if there was anywhere the kids and I could stay at Helidon. A pub told me all the rooms were full but if I could make it he could offer me floor space on a verandah.
Right that second while the water rose in the gully beside us and it truly looked like we would not make it was when the situation hit home. I looked back at my kids, I looked at the raging water and I thought, “I’ve killed my children.” I literally thought we were not going to make it out of this. I apologised to them. “I’m sorry, I made a mistake. We should have stayed at Nanna’s. I’m really sorry.”
Soon the SES worker was letting some people through. I started driving down this highway – completely alone. There wasn’t another car in sight. It was apocalyptic. We were supposed to drive to the next bridge and wait to get through. But on my right I saw a motel on a hill. On instinct, I turned around, drove the wrong way up the highway and pulled into it. They had a room, no power though, could I pay in cash? I could.
If I had not have pulled in there and waited at the bridge to get into Helidon we would have been there that night when the rest of the water poured through Helidon and Grantham, decimating property and killing people. Again, we could have died. Not an outside chance we may have died. But entirely likely.
We waited on top of that hill for a few days. Grantham was declared a crime scene, dozens of people were missing. The phone lines were sporadic. The worst thing was at night when you couldn’t see the water and you worried it would be on top of you before you knew. I parked close to the building so we could get on the roof from the car if we needed to. There was no power and the water was barely running. They ran out of food after the first day but people shared what they had. During the day helicopters droned overhead – searching for bodies. We all knew that, but we tried not to speak of it. The car charger was handy. With no power it allowed me to run the car for awhile and get some juice back into my phone. The lines were so congested my mother couldn’t get through and listed us as missing persons. Also, because I had filled both fuel tanks I wasn’t as scared to run the car to charge the phone.
After another couple of days the water completely ran out at the motel, but by that stage I had heard a rumour they were reopening the range. Leaving and taking a chance I handed in the room key. Before I went up I drove into Helidon, still in shock – we could buy some food if we could pay cash. Which again – I could. We were the second lot of cars allowed up the range and into Toowoomba where we would stay another night before trying to get home. There was no chance of going back to Nanna’s. The flooding had now hit Brisbane and it was a disaster. The police warned us that they couldn’t guarantee what we would see on our way up the range, that they had done their best to clean up. He said it seriously so I knew it was bad. I told the kids to close their eyes on the way up. I watched the road. I did not look around.
The next day I filled up with more fuel, paid cash, no eftpos was working still. We made it home.
If I had been 15 minutes earlier or 30 minutes later – we may be dead. If I didn’t suddenly decide to go to that motel on the hill instead of trying to get to Helidon, we could be dead. If I didn’t fill up both tanks of petrol, I would have run out. If I didn’t have a car charger, I would not have been able to hear reports that allowed me to assure my mother I wasn’t drowned, get home when I did, know I couldn’t go back to Brisbane. If I didn’t buy food we would have been a lot more desperate. If I didn’t have an unusual amount of cash on me, we wouldn’t have had a room, food, fuel, water.
Hand of God?
Chaotic Random Luck?
I can’t believe that is chaotic random. It didn’t feel that way. Anyone I explain that too – especially anyone who saw what came out of Toowoomba that day – whistles in appreciation of our sheer luck. They tell me it was God. They tell me it was fate and it was not my day to die. They tell me it was a guardian angel.
But if I had died? If I had been 15 minutes earlier and my car had washed out on the range and myself and five children had died? People don’t want to believe that’s God. They don’t want to believe that’s fate.
People only want to believe that fate brings the good. Everything else – chaotic random.
But it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to pick and choose. Either EVERYTHING is random or EVERYTHING is pre-ordained. The same God that saved me in 2011 could kill me tomorrow in a five car pile up.
That is life. It’s not all beer and skittles. Some parts fucking suck. Okay, a lot of it sucks. Bad things happen. Why do you think it was ever going to be easy or good? What ever gave you that impression?
In 2011, I nearly died. I nearly killed my kids. People did die. Children died. It was senseless and horrific.
And people lived. A woman drove around with bags of food delivering it to stranded people and checking on elderly folks. A man had his son standing on the back of a ute handing out bottles of water to stranded motorists. A complete stranger offered to pay for my fuel at the petrol station because he didn’t know if I had cash. People shared food and resources – they were good and kind and empathetic. THAT, my friends, is divinity.
I can’t make sense of the bad things. I don’t think anyone really can. Not the way we can make sense of the good things. Sometimes I don’t think there IS a reason or a lesson. What lesson is there in a child dying? Who would ever demand someone learn that lesson? I think it’s just up to us as human beings to provide kindness, caring, empathy and love in our clumsy human way.
It’s a strange world, the way our heartache must sit side by side with our love.
I would love to hear others thoughts about this either in the comments or via the contact page. 🙂