A disaster is as good as a holiday

It’s been interesting seeing the response in the last couple of days to the volcano in Chile shutting down flights here in Australia. With all the news reports of angry customers, and people fighting for the last train tickets, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad. Like these people had missed an opportunity.

It reminded me of an experience from half a decade ago, neglected for years in the back of my mind, but now clear in my memory. I had gone to a town a couple of hours away to visit some friends. On the Saturday, I had to be back by early afternoon to go to work, and was on track until my friend’s car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Now this isn’t normally cause for celebration, and I seem to recall my friend wasn’t too happy about either his car breaking down or the fact that without phone service, we had to walk kilometers in forty degree heat to find a phone.

I do remember though; once the roadside assistance had taken us to the nearest town; once I called my work to say I would be late; as we bought lunch and relaxed in the local park waiting for another friend to come and pick us up; I felt so peaceful. So glad for this relief from the usual stress of rushing to my job.

Of course, in the end I got back home and had to endure the usual misery of a Saturday night spent at work, but that day has always I guess filled a special place in my heart as a time when the spontaneity of life won out over the industrialised routine that has tried so hard to subdue it.

In Brisbane, the memory of this January’s floods is still fresh in the minds of people I speak to. Rather than recalling how bad it was, many people speak in glowing terms of how the community bonded together. People were asking strangers in the street if they needed anything; houses were opened to those who were without a place to stay; everybody leant a hand with the manual labour needed. So what happened? The flood subsided, repairs were made, and everything went back to normal – you avoided eye contact with strangers; your house was your fortress from the rest of the world; and you settled again into the comfort of our normal disconnected state. I wonder whether the people who experienced the floods will one day remember them the same way I recall that broken down car on a stinking hot summer’s day.

So what is my purpose in writing this? I’m not trying to say that natural disasters are a good thing; obviously a volcanic eruption affects some people much more than a cancelled flight. But I guess I wrote it to say that I hope that rather than be “furious”, as the lady interviewed on the news said she was, we can see disruptions as an opportunity given to us by fate to take a break from the routine so many people find so stressful or mundane. An opportunity to relax, or even better, to go with the change, see what adventure comes of it.

So here’s to every dead mobile phone battery, every blackout, every broken down car, every cancellation due to weather. Long may they disrupt the humdrum of everyday life. Long may they sabotage the system of production and consumption that would turn as all into emotionless, pre-programmed robots. May every disruption be a breath of fresh air amongst the slow suffocation that is our 9 to 5 existence.

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