When I woke up this morning, the world felt broken.
A plane carrying 298 people had been shot out of the sky, children lay dead on a beach in Gaza, and an Australian suicide bomber had taken lives.
It felt like the morning of 9/11: significant and heavy, like we should remember where we were when a Malaysian Airlines plane carrying innocent civilians was gunned down over East Ukraine on its way to Kuala Lumpur. When four young boys were blown up on a beach in a war that shouldn’t have touched them. When a terrorist was identified as Australian.
As journalists, we watched rolling coverage of the news all day, covering every detail comprehensively ourselves. A pall hung over our office, like it surely did in every household and school. And throughout the day, things only got worse. The death toll rose, victims were named, and politicians got involved.
We tried to balance out the sadness by playing upbeat music (‘Africa’ by Toto, ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ by Toploader) but nothing could shift the mood. “What a fucking awful series of tragedies,” we said. “What a fucker of a day for humanity.”
It’s a weird kind of grief though, isn’t it? Like it doesn’t properly belong to us. We didn’t get a call from DFAT to say a family member was on that plane. We haven’t lost anyone we loved – not even anyone we knew. So do we have any right to mourn the deaths of strangers 14,000km away?
I think we do. It’s not just normal; it’s important.
“Of course you’re going to feel emotionally depleted today,” says psychotherapist Sally Tayler.
“When people die in horrific circumstances like this, it brings our fundamental fear of death to the front of our minds. When four random children get blown up on a beach, it’s scary. When planes full of civilians go down, it’s threatening. There’s a profound anxiety there, like ‘Am I next? Is someone I love?’ It undermines our faith in human nature, rocks our trust in the world, and shifts the ground on which we walk.”