The writer is Australian.
THERE’S no doubt that as a result of the Covid-19 virus and its debilitating and destructive effect on societies across the globe, increasing numbers of people are distraught and in danger of suffering anxiety, loss and depression.
Whether measured by alcohol consumption, family violence, calls to organisations such as Australia’s Beyond Blue or incidents of self-harm and in extreme cases suicide, it’s clear that the fabric that holds communities and families together is under threat.
What’s to be done? As someone who grew up in a dysfunctional household with a drunken, violent father who deserted his family and left them destitute, I’m the first to admit there is no easy answer.
The consequences of being evicted, the knowledge as a young boy that you could never protect your mother and the sense that life was falling apart all conspired to instil a sense of hopelessness and despair.
So I can empathise with those who have lost their jobs, whose businesses face bankruptcy and those whose aspirations and hopes for the future have been dashed because of an apparently random event never expected and outside their control.
While many argue we now live in a secular post-Christian age, as a young boy raised as a Catholic, what Jesus had to suffer epitomised by the Stations of the Cross taught me suffering and pain are inevitable aspects of life.
This world is not a utopia and to be human is to have to confront and deal with setbacks and events that conspire to unsettle and destroy. With God’s love and grace it is possible to find comfort and reassurance.
As St Teresa of Avila says: ‘Let nothing disturb thee, Nothing affright thee; All things are passing, God never changeth!’ The English Christian mystic Julian of Norwich expresses the same sentiment when she writes: ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’.
While this is a very different time it’s also vital to learn from those involved in the Pacific War recently commemorated on the 75th anniversary of its end. It was a dark and harrowing period where Australia, especially after the fall of Singapore, faced the prospect of imminent invasion and defeat.
On the home front people experienced a strong sense of patriotism and allegiance to the nation as well as loyalty and commitment to family and friends. While today’s society is characterised by divisive and competing interests it’s time to reassert that we are all Australians regardless of class, gender, ethnicity or the colour of one’s skin.
Reading about and listening to those who experienced the evil and barbarous treatment in Singapore’s Changi Prison or on the Burma Railway and the Sandakan death marches, it’s also good to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are by comparison.
We have never been made to suffer the starvation, disease and cruelty experienced on a daily basis by those captured by the Japanese. We have never suffered the trauma and anguish suffered by those seeing their mates starved and beaten to death and being powerless to act.
When asked, those men and women who suffered the gruelling privations and dangers of the Pacific War talk about the value of mateship and the support of loved ones. Previous generations also were taught they must fight on and not give up regardless of the odds and how dire the situation.
While human traits such as courage, optimism and resilience are increasingly lacking in today’s world of self-gratification and ego-centred materialism, it’s obvious that older generations believed in something more enduring and life-affirming which gave them the ability to cope with adversity and loss.
When our son James was killed in a hit-and-run accident we were shell-shocked and devastated, searching endlessly for the reason he was so cruelly taken. His school chaplain consoled us with the belief that even though evil exists and we cannot control our fate or the fate of loved ones, there is comfort.
To quote Julian of Norwich again: ‘If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.’
It’s rare that anyone gets through life untouched by loss, sorrow and grief. The challenge has always been and will continue to be how we cope with the inevitable pain and suffering.