You can’t make jokes about this

WORDS fail me.

This will come as a surprise to Townsville Bulletin readers who have suffered about 100,000 of them from me over the past four years.

But what can you say? Not Happy New Year.

Not for the 100,000 people who lost their lives; nor the hundreds of thousands who lost bits — or all — of their families and their homes in south-east Asia last week.

My job is to make light of life’s dramas. Your daughter redesigns her face in a collision with a windscreen? There’s a funny side.

Your wife leaves you? It’s not all bad.

You have a prostate problem? I can make jokes about the finger test.

Even September 11 left room for some cynical jibes about Osama Bin Certified.

But this? The planet makes a minor adjustment to the furniture and the lives of a million people are ripped apart?

You can’t make jokes about that.

You can’t even make jokes about the city council (and you can always make jokes about the city council!) when you hear they’ve cancelled the fireworks and given the money to tsunami victims.

I could always fall back on some stirring rhetoric about the indomitable spirit of the human race and how we will overcome, but somehow I’d be embarrassed.

I mean… of course we shall overcome. We’re not there. We’re here, where the waves nuzzle the beach like suckling babes.

But when you’re standing below a vertical wall of water that is filled with old cars, slabs of asphalt and your neighbour’s house “we shall overcome” is less use than arm bands.

We’re here, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a Good Thing.

Scott Challen’s description in Thursday’s Townsville Bulletin of the devastation at Patong was enough for me.

I can tell you now — it being over — that 2004 was a hell of a year for me.

My wife did nearly leave me; my daughter did nearly kill herself in a car accident; I did nearly kill the absent father of my two grandchildren.

There have been times when I’ve thought about smothering the grandchildren, too.

But if we were all to pile our problems into a heap in the middle of a paddock, ready for redistribution, I’d be happy to take my own back off again – before someone decided my problems were more attractive than their own.

Someone in Patong, say.

So at least, this time, when the second hand sweeps into the new year, it might bring about a new kind of re‑evaluation. Something more meaningful than: “I will try to remember to fold my clothes instead of dropping them on the bedroom floor.”

Maybe the lesson is: so far, so good. I’m me and I’m here and I wouldn’t want to change anything of my clumsy, dysfunctional past if it meant I’d be living a different kind of clumsy and dysfunctional present.

I’ll follow the city council’s lead and give money to the tsunami victims, although I’d much rather give something more meaningful, like a soothing shoulder, or a roof somewhere – somewhere far away from the beach.

But mostly I’ll give thanks that I was born me and that — so far — the gods have been kind.

Happy New Year.