Like everyone, the horror of MH17 touches us. We all fly, we have all been in that situation, a plane a cruising altitude, shoes off, headrest adjusted, checking the movies, waiting for dinner service (chicken or beef, sir). This is why we relate to this, more so than, say the Korean Ferry Sinking earlier in the year. We can place ourselves there, in that plane. Our own mental maps can place us in those seats, because we have been there at some stage. Either on Malaysian, or other airlines. Similarly, the London Bombings had a greater sobering impact on many of us than, say, the more devastating Madrid Bombings.

What I think is most horrifying would be the lack of notice. Business as usual, only for the plane to be ripped asunder from below. One hopes death came quickly to people, but we will never really know. I suppose with no notice there was no terror from the plane out of control, heading towards the inevitable, realising that you are about to die (an experience that I thought that I was having descending into Kathmandu Airport in 1989, until the pilot managed to wrest control of the plane). It was challenging to talk about it with our 10 year old, to try to explain that flying is still safer than getting in the car, or crossing the road.

For the families, no death is easy. Sudden traumatic death is hard, people don’t get to say goodbyes. Each is tragic in it’s own way. Even more in this case, is the malevolent nature of what happened. Somebody did this. Somebody is to blame (although with the so-called natural disasters, we now really understand that the hands of humans have a big impact on what happens to people). This situation will make it harder for people to make meaning of what has happened, which is the natural human reaction to try to understand what has happened.

We saw this through the Bali Bombings, where many people affected struggled to make meaning of the circumstances. Many sustained their anger and bitterness through the years. Others reconciled what happened. This was the first time we used support groups. It helped people to make sense of their experience. It helped people relate to others in the same circumstances, and feel that they are not alone. It also helped them understand there were a range of different experiences that people went through.

We now know that 37 Australians and residents have lost their lives. This means hundreds more will be affected in communities across Australia, through intense personal grief, to the sadness of a lost colleague, teammate teacher, classmate etc, and the knowledge that the world has changed, again.

Our challenge will be to help people connect, and to make meaning of what has happened.

Charlie Haden, the extraordinary bassist who died during the week, gave us, with Pat Metheny, Spiritual. A piece for the times.


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