Odd how looking at a rainbow can quickly take you far away from the initial contemplation of its coloured bands. The last time I saw one, I realised that the true fascination, for me, resided in its arc. The impact of a thing that rises out of nothing, stopping me in my tracks, before fading away into a distant and unknowable part of the landscape.
Disasters arc in the same way. Such an event, natural or man-made, thousands of miles from the place we call home, rises from a point beyond our consciousness. At its height, we can’t help but engage with what’s happening. We are caught in the colours of catastrophe, feeling the heaviness of someone else’s plight in our hearts. We respond in different ways, and with a variety of offerings. We give something of ourselves in those moments before the arc descends into the aftermath. Everything in that short spell is clear and undeniable. The suffering is palpable, the frailty of existence too close for comfort.
As with a rainbow, the arc of a disaster finally succumbs and vanishes from our view. After only a short period of time, the detail that caused spontaneous weeping and soul searching is just beyond recall. We quickly backfill from the pile of particulars that make up our own lives, and it becomes almost impossible to separate an earthquake in Haiti, from a tsunami in Fukushima.
Almost exactly two years ago, I watched a television news report from Syria. The death of an eight year old girl created a bleak arc for contemplation. I marked it with words, the best I could. Perhaps this is what poetry is for? To trace an arc, to help us remember and, on occasion, to describe the brief existence of rainbows.