Cathblog - Emergency learning


Not long ago, there I was, sorting through a filing cabinet for ‘essential documents’. I had printed off the ‘Bushfire Survival Plan’ and made notes.

There was a list on the kitchen table and I was ticking off the things that needed to be done or needed to be packed. The forecast for the next day was ‘catastrophic’ and this was our first summer in the bush.

The cat’s cage had been collected from the garage; the dog’s collar and lead were beside it.  The as-yet-to-be-packed bag was in the bedroom.

The sense of urgency waxed and waned as did the packing and the sorting.  Needless to say, my wife and I were only partly prepared when the calamitous Tuesday arrived.  But there had been discussion and this was a start.  It also set me thinking.

What are my priorities?  What would I most want to save and what losses would impact on me the most?  I was reminded of a French film from many years ago, A Man and A Woman.  It had a wonderful musical theme, but it was a discussion about priorities, like the one we had on Monday night that came back to me.

The conversation in the film centred around a real or imagined house fire and the choice of saving a work of art or a cat.  I can’t remember whether there was agreement, but one of the characters was adamant; the life of the cat was more important than saving the painting.

As only the French can, the film focussed on what is most important to us, what we value and what this says about us.  The film also did what I found difficult to do prior to that Tuesday, create a sense of urgency, make the unacknowledged, the taken-for-granted, real.

The morning prior to the emergency, I was joking with the landscape architect who is doing some work for us.  At a previous meeting, when we newcomers to Cootamundra had expressed some concern about snakes, she said something like, ‘You haven’t lived ‘till you’ve stood on a brown snake!’

This morning I told her that I haven’t even seen a brown snake yet, despite my best efforts, let alone stood on one.  I quoted back to her the words I thought she had said.  She laughed and said, ‘I meant life has never felt so precious ‘til you’ve stood on a brown snake.’

‘Life has never felt so precious . . . ‘

When I sat down to write these few words I did not know that was how I would end.  I watched the devastation of the fires in Tasmania, the destruction in Victoria and the losses closer to home.

Then, in more recent days there were floods in Queensland and northern New South Wales.  The images had a familiar impact, the same feelings of horror and helplessness and intentions to contribute to the various  appeals.

But, it was a woman from Jugiong speaking about the loss of livestock that affected me most.

‘Life has never felt so precious . . . ‘

The painful, frightening loss of life, the ordinary, daily loss of life, the inevitable, inescapable loss of life can all merge into one.

Our survival instincts protect us most of the time and our resilient and healing instincts can lessen the impact of loss, our own and other people’s.

But, the other side of this loss, hidden deeply in the tragic and the ordinary, is the truth that I visited, briefly, gratefully and unexpectedly as I lined up passports and the cat’s cage and the dog’s lead.

Life is incredibly precious.  


Richard White blogs from Cootamundra in southern NSW.

Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.

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