Saturday, February 26, 2011

absentee survivor guilt

 photo: copyright AP?

this week is like one epic post-apocalyptic train-wreck. christchurch earthquake has irrevocably impacted my life. my crippling guilt & shame are so immense. why? because i'm not even there.

 photo: copyright - TVNZ still - AP

but still the ensuing devastation seeing the city of my greatest "coming of age" stories, my heritage, the pain of chasing my friends & family down via social media, interwebs, phone, etc watching the ongoing decimation & also enduring resilience of my people and all the others who have selflessly come has attacked my very core. nothing will ever be the same again. an emotional mirror not dissimilar to september 11.

deadlines have fallen & crashed at my feet as the compulsion to know everything & to keep abreast of developments & throw energy into the hope well so as to increase the likelihood of a miracle, the constant updates or lack of has been... draining. torturous even. here i sit in front of a computer in my humble film studio aptly supplied by power, with a fresh glass of fresh tap water, the ability to eat anything i want & with all facilities at my disposal. what's wrong?

survivor guilt from catastrophes is well documented. it's a well recognised subgroup of PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder. first officially recognised with those who'd lived through concentration camps & the holocaust - the downside of the elation of living is potentially overshadowed by this sensation experienced by many, after the initial shock recedes. think of schindler's breakdown in schindler's list.

still i feel like a fake. or a phony, as holden caulfield would say. it's not like i'm actually there off my fat ass. it's cringe-worthy that i've spent the week blocking out my clashing & banging sydney life. instead almost 24/7 i've been projecting my energy into the peoples' life-force far-off in christchurch whose souls lie trapped under the rubble. captivated by the real-life drama.

i suppose absentee survivor guilt is a manifestation offered by the ubiquitiousness of our modern day media. first we saw the gulf war televised, 9-11, new orleans... these days we have disasters on demand. second degree trauma or universal consciousness is no less real.

 photo: copyright getty images

in many ways despite not experiencing the horror of the actual shakes those from afar have the ability to tap into the 360 degree visual impact more than others who are actually present in outlying suburbs etc cut-off without electricity or communications. the images & heart-wrenching emotions are splattered all over our televisions, computer monitors & iPads on the hour every hour. and sometimes more. click refresh faster. the degree of connection is amplified. 

we watched a guy in order to be extracted from a broken building having his legs sawn off with a hacksaw for crissakes. and someone else had to do it. that wasn't "house", that was real.

 photo: copyright REUTERS

we are driven to reduce what it means to be human. it is the invisible thing which drives & binds us to one another. tragically it often takes an event of such horror to supercede segregative fear & suspicion and become brothers & sisters in supporting arms.

although this has been an immensely crushing time it's also incredibly inspiring watching the constant heroism for the sake of others not self which has become a matter of course for all those involved. we've all seen the stories. most of us have cried. some haven't stopped.

 photo: copyright iain mcgregor/REUTERS

although many of us absentees are not physically there manning soup kitchens, pulling bodies or bricks from the rubble, sweeping liquefied silt off streets or lending a shoulder to cry on, we are spiritually present. guilt can be harnessed as an excellent mobilizer of productive action. and action leads to resolution which is universally craved. like kinetic energy it must transfer and be passed on into useful energy otherwise it eats the souls of the living & the generations who follow. the scars of trauma are more than skin-deep.

 photo: copyright john grainger, the daily telegraph

us absentee survivors who cannot be there offer solidarity in support; financially & emotionally, a union of strength, to stand proud bearing a beacon of hope for those who are at ground zero who will often understandably run short of all these. to go on. the people need us. the power of love is a formidable force indeed. it is our humanity.

NB. thank you to air new zealand who are still offering compassionate airfares for those to get in or out. and all the other companies who have come to the fore to provide the building blocks for the people to grieve, heal and in time grow.

PS. survivor guilt is a crippling & very serious mental condition which can be terminal in worst cases. please look after those around you & seek medical attention if it persists. we all have to look after each other.

1 comment:

  1. The tenderness and compassion in that second last image is so very moving - terrible, compelling and beautiful all at once. Overwhelming...