Madonna King: How heartbreaking Turkey earthquake photo reminded me to pause

It was an image I saw fleetingly: A father, grey with sadness, holding the hand of his child who had been buried deep under rubble.

There have been others like it too, but this was the one I saw soon after the earth opened up and swallowed the lives of so many that authorities are still counting.

How do we make any sense of that? And do we even have time to ponder it?

Big news events now flash by us, from one to the next, leaving a list of heroes and villains. And the bar keeps rising.

Mesut Hancer holds the hand of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak, who died in the earthquake in Kahramanmaras, close to the quake's epicentre.

Mesut Hancer holds the hand of his 15-year-old daughter Irmak, who died in the earthquake in Kahramanmaras, close to the quake’s epicentre. Photo: Getty

The story needs to be bigger than the last one to capture our attention and sympathies. The pictures more heartbreaking.

Remember the two police officers who died at the hands of a conspiratorial sniper deep inside Queensland. I wonder how their families and police peers are coping?

The story was everywhere, and then it disappeared as another tragedy somewhere else unfolded. Out with the old news, and in with the new.

A young woman dies in custody after being arrested by Iran’s morality police.

We tell our daughters about it, hope it sows a seed of rebellion that grows to understand we need equality everywhere.

Today, I asked 15 people if they could remember her name.

None of them could, including me. But the name – and death – of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini deserves to be seared in our memory. She deserves to mould our views, and our advocacy.

Does anyone else feel the need to hit PAUSE. It’s only February, and the days are racing by faster than ever.

Even Dry July has become FebFast; a shorter period of alcohol abstinence that will benefit charities – and those of us who like a cold glass of pinot gris.

Just consider some of the big events that have unfolded in the past few weeks.

A new brand of COVID. China’s bold position, over everything from a pandemic to its higher education students.

ChatGPT, upending assessments at school and university. Interest rates that refuse to become tired of climbing.

A rental squeeze that’s making it hard for many to breathe. Sliding house prices. An evil war in Ukraine that will not go away.

And that’s on top of revolving UK prime ministers, the death of the world’s most famous woman and Queen, along with the goodbyes forced on us in Australia over the past year.

Archie Roach. Shane Warne. Olivia Newton-John, because we will always claim her. Paul Green. Rod Marsh. Caroline Jones.

Many of our own parents, too. Life now is played on fast-forward, for so many, and it’s hard to find that pause button.

in memoriam 2022

Bob Saget, Meatloaf, Judith Durham, the Queen, Shane Warne, Uncle Jack Charles, Archie Roach, Coolio and Olivia Newton-John.

So when do we mourn?

When do we have time now, to pause and reflect? In the old days, our teachers would remind us – ‘stop and smell the roses’. But it’s easier to snap them up on a Saturday morning now, for $15 a bunch.

Wasn’t technology sold as a way of gifting us back time? It would make our lives simpler, we were promised. And provide a better work-life balance.

And yet on any independent assessment it is the online world that has helped create the new speed with which we race through life. Stories are delivered in 60 second grabs.

Our children speak in an online language that requires translation. We rarely stop for anything.

In some homes, it’s called the Rushing Women’s Syndrome, but plenty of men suffer it too. Mice caught on a hamster wheel. Never ending chores. School duties. Baskets of washing. It’s done, and the ironing appears.

We know social media – our obsession, how it works, and how it rules our world – is a time thief. But like our teenagers, we find it almost impossible to pull away.

It’s easier to check our messages in the supermarket queue, book the holiday between dinner and dessert on a smart phone, and send an email – rather than talk – to the teacher.

COVID has delivered so much heartache. But it also set the pause button. The rush stopped. The front door closed. And we even chaired meetings in our pyjama shorts.

No-one wishes that COVID returns like it was. Ever. But wouldn’t it be valuable to pick the specks of gold out of the mud it delivered?

To find the pause button and then play life at a slower speed. Smile a bit longer. Talk over the back fence. Stay up late, after February, and enjoy that glass of wine.

It was just one photograph of a father in Turkey, but it’s what I needed to press ‘pause’, and ponder how he will cope without the child he refused to leave.

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