It’s hard to not associate gratitude with guilt, the closer we get to the belly of the apocalypse. Future generations would probably tell me that we’re nowhere near it. That it happens long after I’m dead and gone. This – this is just the start of the showdown. That I can go about my day with my recycled bags and my mindful energy consumption and feel relatively smug. I’m told that I still have to live in this world, still have to navigate its pathways with my very human emotions and my very real sensitivities. The plates I spin require precise calculation as it is. Self-care for me looks like not adding another plate even when the ten I have are spinning so splendidly.
I’m trying, Earth. I could try harder. My friends down south are wearing facemasks to work. The places I lived and loved in 2018 have been decimated. I look out at my blue skies and clean air, at the crisp green grass, still damp with rain and I marvel, albeit with a whimper, at the fate-tempest that delivered me back here.
South-east Queensland is a utopia compared to the rest of the country right now. When the floods hit us in 2011 – we used the words ‘unprecedented’ and ‘catastrophic’. Images of houses floating away filled our screens, the death toll rose sharply – all we could do was watch on in horror as people drowned in drought-riddled country towns, helpless against the deluge. There were no protests. Climate change was bandied around but dismissed as rhetoric. Every time I walk along the river now, marvel at the new laneway bars or playgrounds and water-features, I remember that not so long ago, it was our turn. How quickly we rebuild and forget.
I am grateful for my blue sky. For my flourishing plants. How when the weather hits 40 up here (and it does), I can slide into my pool and glide across its cool waters and pretend that this is just normal, this is just Summer. This is not normal. This is the new normal.
I am grateful for this life that I am re-building, for the abated storms in my mind, for medication (no matter how imperfect at times), for my cornerstone and rock of a husband, for my daughter who grows and thrives more every year. For my family. For music. For my accessible education. For work that appears when I need it.
I watch, I read, I educate myself, I donate. I despair. I survive. I try to live, despite that fact that others do not. It feels shameful to envy the dead at a time like this and yet guilt is a useless emotion that I am slowly coming to terms with.
In therapy, we talk in metaphors, of demons and wolves. Of normalising what haunts me. We talk about self-forgiveness. How every time I am tempted to move back to either coast, or to go back to what broke me, I’m to make a list of what I’d be missing: my favourite Italian bakery; my favourite cinema; short drives up the mountain; forests, steamy after the rain; the currawongs that have finally migrated, their songs now mingling amongst the chorus of wagtails and stormbirds and cockatoos.
I know, deep down that it’s taken a whole year to be on the other side of this madness, and I’m not going anywhere. I’m home. But I also tell her how it feels like survivor’s guilt. That I do not have the right to love this life. She reminds me about how hard I have fought to be in this space. And that the world needs me alive, and thriving so that I have more choices, and the more choices I have available to me, the more I have to give. The paradox of privilege.
“But it’s good to be alive
And these are the choices
We make to survive
You do what you can”
– Sheryl Crow