Murwillumbah. Tuesday, 12.25pm
Despite power steering, the Subaru didn’t want to turn.
The car felt like a rock, and the intersection near the post office in Murwillumbah was no place to be driving a rock. Especially in lunchtime traffic.
A woman, whose eyes hovered in that space between the top of the steering wheel and the dash of her 4WD (which was larger than my shack and blacker than a fossil-fuelled future), leant hard on the horn.
She didn’t like that the unusual sluggishness of the Subie had caused me to hesitate in the traffic for half a second. This woman had no time for time. Any unplanned seconds injected into her busyness gave her time to think; time to contemplate a new reality that lurks in the shadows of her itinerary.
With the blaring 4WD looming above me and a squelching sound coming from under my Subie as I turned the steering wheel, a bloke with a Bulldogs shirt and floral boardshorts ran up to my window. His lips moved and he pointed to my front passenger wheel.
Though I couldn’t hear him above Diana Ross singing Heatwave, I immediately knew the problem: flat tyre.
Beneath the crust of our existence lies a great grief. This sorrow sometimes bubbles up like hot mud through unexpected cracks in our day-to-day living and, for no reason we can articulate, a tear will well or a sigh suck air as that sadness escapes from where we have buried it.
Sometimes that feeling of loss will force its way through fissures in our denial and explode like a volcano. We cry out in inappropriate places.
I limped the Subie to a loading zone outside a homewares shop.
This is the first flat tyre I’ve had with this car. I learn that the car doesn’t have the proper jack. And that the jack it does have hasn’t got a handle.
Climate change is now an unfashionable topic. Everyone has had enough.
But here’s the thing: Whether we like it or not, climate change is a reality.
We have trashed a planet so fragile that despite Homo Sapiens having been around for 200,000 years, only in the last 10,000 years has a relatively stable climate enabled us to develop agriculture, Facebook and capitalism; a planet whose ability to nurture life is so unlikely that we spin alone among the billions of stars; a planet so generous in its fertility eight million (and falling) species call it home.
My shirt is blotched with sweat. I’m winding the stupid jack using a stupid screwdriver. It’s incredibly tedious and has already taken half an hour. The flat tyre is still touching the road. Makes me want to cry.
The sweat is not just from the physical exertion but from an increasing anxiety. This deviation to my plans has uncapped a sense of the impending awful loss.
The stupid screwdriver bends: ‘Oh, stupid bloody stupid screwdriver!’
The grief may well overwhelm me.
What can you do? What can you do?
‘Try this, mate.’
A young bloke, Nathan from the homewares shop (name tag on his shirt), hands me a barbecue skewer. Obviously I have no sausages but the skewer is perfect for turning the jack. And long enough to create excellent mechanical advantage.
I don’t know how we will cope with the terrible loss as the reality becomes more and more apparent. Some will, of course, stay in denial because the reality is too horrible to grasp.
Some will confront the awful reality. Maybe, together, the tragedy confronted and accepted can be mitigated.
And I, armed with a barbecue skewer from a new friend who understands the situation, I may yet survive this crisis and finish my shopping.