Love in the time of tragedy
Jordan Rice was 13 years old when he died. His rescue was imminent but he refused the help, insisting his would-be rescuers take his 10-year-old brother, Blake, first.
When his rescuers returned Jordan was insisting they take his mother, Donna, first - but there was no more time.
The rope to which he and Donna desperately clung snapped and they were both swept away by the raging floodwater.
They found a tree and both held on for as long as they could. But the rescuers could not reach them and Jordan could not hang on. As he was swept away for a second time Donna let go of the tree and went to save her son.
They were both lost.
There will be those who will speak admirably of Jordan and his sacrifice, and call what he did an act of courage or heroism. There will be those who will say the same of Donna or the rescuers and countless others whose names we do not yet know.
What Jordan and Donna did can be explained much more simply as an act of love.
In his own mind, Jordan probably wasn’t being brave or courageous. He probably didn’t think he was sacrificing his own life for that of his brother - and I am sure he never saw the circumstances as an opportunity to be a hero. He loved his little brother and he loved his mum and that was enough.
When we look at the pictures on our TV screens and listen to the stories of the mass destruction in Queensland, it somehow doesn’t seem real. Even for those who are experiencing it firsthand, it doesn’t seem real.
It isn’t the pictures that affect us or compel us to donate our time or money - because they are beyond our comprehension. Instead, we respond to the thing we comprehend most readily – the bonds of love between one human being and another.
Family members cry out to take a brother first… or a sister, or a mother. Friends abandon their own homes so they might help their neighbour. Bystanders wade into the torrent and reach out a hand to a stranger.
Those of us many miles away read the stories of Jordan, Donna and many others and we shed a tear and feel the pain of love lost. We donate what we can and we try to compensate for their loss by sending them our love. Love is what defines us.
It defines us no matter who we are or what we believe in. It causes us to put aside our differences. It binds us together.
As we take toll of the disaster that has engulfed the people of Queensland there will be a natural tendency to try and find reason amongst the chaos and to seek sense amongst the senselessness.
It is the human condition to try and find answers to questions of human tragedy. We will ask why it happened. Why the loss of life? Why Jordan and Donna? Why not me? We find it difficult to accept that sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes ‘bad luck’ is the closest we can get to an adequate explanation.
We will probably try to assign blame - as some already are - but that is nothing more than an expression of anger at our inability to tame the forces of nature or to anticipate its wrath and protect ourselves from it. We will be frustrated that we couldn’t have done more and despairing of our limitations. Despite all our great advances humanity remains flawed and inadequate. We don’t like being reminded.
Such feelings will give way to expressions of pride in the response of rescuers and calls for their bravery to be recognised, and no doubt such honours will be bestowed. But the greatest recognition will already have been given. Ample thanks will have been received in the form of a shaken hand, a knowing nod, a heartfelt hug or, at length, a timid smile or laugh.
They will give way to expressions of pride in our unity and compassion and the unique ability of Australians to come together in the face of adversity and help their fellow man. But it isn’t unique to Australia.
It is the most obvious example of how love transcends the deepest grief and it is evident everywhere in the world. It is, in fact, a fundamental tenet of the human condition and the only thing that provides hope for the human race. It tells us that our similarities far exceed our differences but, sadly, it takes a great tragedy for it to manifest itself widely. Even then it will be temporary .But at least we know what we are capable of.
Just as it always does, resolve will replace grief and the business of rebuilding will begin. There will be renewal and we will once again set ourselves the task of proving our infallibility and our invincibility. At some point we will again be proven wrong and another Jordan will cry out “Take my brother first…” We will once again recognise the bonds of love, shed a tear and be compelled to help in whatever way we can.
Those that have been lost will be remembered, initially by all of us, but always by those that loved them most. The ones left behind will be comforted by the kindnesses received by strangers and an outpouring of love from a world that recognises their pain as its own. Ultimately the tragedy itself will fade from our collective memory and pass in to history.
Though we may struggle to remember the names of Jordan Rice and his mother Donna in the years to come, let’s hope that we remember their example. Let’s hope we remember the example set by the rescuers or anyone else that tried to help. Let’s hope we remember that love is both a feeling and an action and is distinguished by its inability to differentiate between the two.
To love and be loved is the sum total of our existence. To say, “I love you” as we leave this world and hear or see it said in return is the greatest epitaph anyone can hope for.
Take my brother first… take my mother first…
That is enough.
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