The Year That Was


Buildings Devastated By War

I have been following the scenes coming out of Gaza closely during the last five days. Like most people I have been stunned by how the situation has deteriorated so quickly… this period has been the bloodiest I can remember. I had hoped that a brief ceasefire might be reached to allow humanitarian aid through but that now seems to have been rejected. So far the air strikes have killed more than 390 Palestinians (60 civilians) and injured more than 1900, while more than than 250 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into Israeli territory, killing 4 people and wounding dozens. The devastation has also overwhelmed hospitals and more supplies are desperately needed.

To be honest it’s happened so quickly that I’m not sure what to make of it all. I support Israel’s need to defend itself but I was caught off-guard by the sheer ferocity of the air strikes; in an area as densely populated as Gaza I would have thought Israel could have shown more restraint. Then again, no country in the world would allow its citizens to come under daily rocket attack and I’d expect a strong response from Israel, particularly when the rockets can reach as far as schools and kindergartens as we saw today. I just wish there was more of a humanitarian effort as well. And now the rocket attacks are penetrating farther than ever before. The whole situation is just chaotic and I feel sorry for the civilians caught in the middle on both sides.

Right now it seems that the best hope for a ceasefire lies with the UN and the European Union, while the US tries to bring pressure to bear on both sides for a more lasting agreement. I hope some kind of agreement can be reached but, with this ceasefire rejected, I doubt it will be for several days… and right now it only seems to be escalating. In the meantime I’ve signed a petition with Avaaz calling on both sides to stop the violence; reading about the destruction, watching the scenes, I just felt like I had to do something, and though it’s only a small thing I hope in some way it makes a difference.

Australian Money

The Economy: The Big Story of 2008

Watching what’s happening in Gaza at the moment has made me realise just how quickly 2008 went by. It’s hard to believe it’s already 2009, isn’t it? This time last year Benazir Bhutto’s assassination had triggered a deadly wave of violence in Pakistan. Can that really have been only a year ago? So much has happened since then that it feels like so much longer. But we’ve had the fireworks and music, so it really must be 2009.

Most years I find that events tend to blur together as the year passes and the memories aren’t as fresh for me by the end but despite 2008 being a busy year, it’s still vivid in my mind. It’s been a sad year in many ways; there have been moments of hope but I think looking back the overwhelming memories I have of 2008 are of pain and sorrow. I think they shall linger for some time

Of course the biggest story of 2008 was the economic crisis. Watching the scenes from the US as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other institutions started to go under was chilling; not only did it have implications for the global economy but these were ordinary people losing their money and jobs. And then of course the proverbial shit really hit the fan; the global stockmarkets crashed, thousands of jobs were cut, overseas banks were being nationalised or filing for bankruptcy, suddenly we were all talking about the R world, “recession” – and then there was the bailout which caused all kinds of consternation. And that was just in September.

It’s been a remarkable period and has been terrible for the people directly affected but I think it serves as something of a warning to the rest of us as well; we are extremely lucky to enjoy our lifestyle in the West but with that comes the danger of excess and perhaps this is a wakeup call for all of us. 2009 will be a difficult year with the rise in unemployment and living costs but if we learn the lessons from this crisis then perhaps some good can still come from it as well. There are more important things in life, after all.

Heath Ledger’s death is also something that still lingers in my mind. As I said at the time Heath was someone I had grown up watching; I saw him in Sweat, his first major role, and most of his films after that. We were only a few years apart in age, so his death at only 28 had a strong impact on me. I thought his performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight was mesmerising, and sadly tragic, but it’s his performances in Brokeback Mountain and Monster’s Ball that I’ll remember best. His loss is a profound one for our film industry, one I feel we still have yet to fully recover from nearly a year on.

By far the worst news of the year for me was the devastation in Burma and China. The destruction Cyclone Nargis caused was particularly overwhelming, killing more than 150,000 people (and by some estimates almost a million). I’ll never forget the Burmese authorities claiming that they “weren’t ready to accept” foreign aid workers into the country even while Burma had clearly suffered a monumental humanitarian disaster. And then only days later an earthquake flattened schools and villages in China, killing 87,000 people (19,000 children). The scenes in China were some of the most heartbreaking I have ever seen, with entire schools destroyed and parents weeping.

Like everyone else I was stunned and saddened by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai as well. To see a metropolis of 12 million people brought to its knees for three days, particularly a city with such heritage and prestige as Mumbai, was troubling, as was the sheer scale of the attacks; a series of ten coordinated attacks leaving 178 dead and 308 injured. Then to see the peace that had started to form between Pakistan and India beginning to unravel was even more troubling… it is something the world cannot allow to happen.

2008 brought with it some interesting stories and moments as well. For Australians one moment was in February when the Federal government finally apologised to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generations. The apology was long overdue and while it’s only one step toward reconciliation, it is a moment I’ll never forget. Then in September we started to hear more about the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Franco-Swiss border, a particle accelerator which we were told could create an artificial black hole… and might destroy the world! Well, it didn’t (obviously); problem was, it didn’t work either – it sprung a leak and they’re going to try again in June. Great.

Also in July Thomas Beatie, the “Pregnant Man”, was rushed to hospital and delivered a healthy baby girl amidst a storm of controversy. Beatie was born a woman but kept his female reproductive organs after undergoing hormone treatments ten years earlier to become a man and conceived his daughter through artificial insemination. I actually found the process interesting and didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about; but then I like weird science. For those who are interested, Beatie is now pregnant with his second child.

But of course the reason most of us will remember 2008 is because of Barack Obama. To achieve what he has achieved is an incredible thing; to have an African American President is something many people did not think was possible and to see the tears on so many faces still moves me even now. It’s a moment in history for America and the world and I think no matter what your political persuasion is, that is something to be proud of. Of course one moment changes nothing; there is still racism and always will be, and we don’t know what kind of president Obama will be yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that November 4 was an historic moment, one I and I’m sure millions of people will always remember.

There were other stories as well. Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack both passed away, as did Arthur C. Clarke. Russia’s incursion into Georgia resulted in more than 500 civilian deaths. The Beijing Olympics were held in August; Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt ruled the world, while the Games themselves were overshadowed by issues far greater than sport. And Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer fought the greatest Wimbledon final ever, a match that lasted over 4 1/2 hours and ended in darkness; Nadal was a deserved winner.

Personally 2008 was a difficult year for me as well. I was ill for most of the year, which was frustrating; my work suffered and I’ve not been able to write at my normal speed for some time now. My grandmother nearly died and required an amputation and I also lost a friendship which meant a great deal to me; both events made me think about what was really important in my life. After a serious fire and several things with my family as well, it has been an exhausting year. So I’m quite happy to say goodbye to 2008.

I think the problems I have had through this year, though, have actually helped me overall. They’ve helped me to find strength in places that I didn’t know I had and I know I can rely on myself more than I believed I could before. I feel like I’ve turned a few negatives into positives and grown as a person, which is more than I could have hoped for from this last year all told.

So that was 2008 from my point of view. A busy year and a sad year, but also one with its moments of hope. As far as 2009 goes I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions but I do have some hopes to stay true to. I’d like to be in good health and happiness; to trust in myself and my abilities; to not take bullshit from anyone; to be good to others and to help where I can; to find someone to love. I do have one very big ambition for 2009 and that is to write something I can send away to an agent; I feel like I’m finally ready and after developing an idea for several years, I want to tackle my first novel.

Globally I hope 2009 is a more peaceful year than 2008 was. At some stage there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas; it’s just a matter of time and, unfortunately, lives, and we just have to hope that it is sooner rather than later. Hopefully the economy will begin to stabilise and peoples’ lives can find some kind of normalcy again. I also hope that Obama’s transition to the presidency will be smooth and he can start bringing people together after so much division. I’m also looking forward to the release of the new Star Trek film (Spock!) and can’t wait for Wimbledon. Hope it’s as good as last year.

So Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for being a part of my 2008 and I hope you all have a peaceful and safe 2009. 😉

4 thoughts on “The Year That Was

  1. This was a wonderful post.

    You’ve done a really great job of summarizing the year.

    It seems so much happened this year–in both the news and my personal life. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just my imagination. Maybe I was just more aware of stuff this year.

    I’m with you though. What I want most is for 2009 to be more peaceful than 2008.

    I kind of want 2009 to be a bit boring….not boring in a bad way, but boring in a peaceful way.

  2. Thanks, Dina. Looking back 2008 was a remarkable year, wasn’t it? People experienced so many different emotions – joy, hope, despair, – and I wanted to be as respectful as I could, while still giving my own thoughts on it… I feel that we’ve created a lot of our own problems and I hope we can learn from 2008. It’s certainly not a year we’re going to forget.

    I’m not sure why but it definitely feels like the more eventful the year is, the more aware I am of events in my own life as well… I remember that feeling in 2001 also. Maybe because we have some of these larger thoughts on our minds, the other events we’re going through become more pervasive? I mean, whether we’d had the financial crisis and the disasters or not, everything in my life would still have happened anyway… but maybe it would have been easier to deal with? I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just drawing at straws.

    A boring 2009 sounds like a good year to me too. A peaceful year for the world and a smooth transition for Obama are very high in my thoughts and hopes right now.

    Hope you have a safe and wonderful 2009, Dina. 😉

  3. This is a really well written post CJ…you certainly love politics and world events ….and I know they are both vitally important to you. I am constantly amazed and shamed by your passion for the injustice in the world. I did used to get worked up over various disasters when I was your age but think it was more because I did not finish my nursing training and so felt powerless when these things happened…wanted to be doing something. That is the beauty of your writing…you can make a difference…even if it is just turning someone away from their apathy or self involvement for a few minutes to actually see what is going on in the world. Your fiction and poetry is a very good escape as well for people when they have had enough of the world and want to lose themselves for a few hours.

    It was certainly a difficult year personally and it is hard to believe that you got through so much personal suffering without becoming too jaded…yet you have. I also applaud you for making an active choice not to escalate the business with your friend as it would only have further impacted your poor health. You were an extremely loyal friend….and you were not heard in any of it which is a pity….it was strange that people assumed that my opinions and yours were the same…if only they knew that in some things you are far fiercer than I. Remember our discussions on Gaza and China? We may look like two peas in a pod but you definitely have your own voice and thoughts and that is very obvious in this post. I am so very very proud of you son. I do so hope that this year finds an improvement in your health and in the things you hold dear to your heart…and no I do not automatically know those either readers!!!

  4. Thanks, MQ. I’m glad you liked the post. It’s these kind of posts that I actually like the most. With the research and fact-checking that goes into it, it’s a little like what I might have done as a journalist. And my interest in politics comes into it too.

    I think my main point with this post is that that while it’s important to look at the New Year as a fresh start, it’s also important to learn from the mistakes of the past year as well. And we certainly made a lot in 2008! That’s why the apathy we’re seeing now bothers me, particularly about how we could help more… I just feel that if we lose interest in the world then people can do whatever they want and everything we stand for will be for nothing. That’s why even if no one listens I’ll always stand up for what I think is right.

    It was a difficult year but it’s been more frustrating than anything, particularly as far as my writing is concerned… I guess I just felt like there wasn’t much point dwelling on it. As for what happened with my friend, well I think it hurt both of us in different ways to be fair. I’m sure we both could have handled it better but I suppose you just have to move on.

    Hopefully 2009 will be a better and more peaceful year for all of us. Happy New Year, MQ. 🙂

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