Content in living out your life: work, money, weekends, holidays, home, kids… and then something happens: a cataclysmic event changes everything.
Be it a sudden illness or a natural disaster like the flooding Brisbane is now facing, everything you know – everything you care about, everything you have dedicated your life to, everything you imagined for your future – can disappear in an instant.
As I write, Brisbane faces 12 people dead, 43 missing, 20,000 homes, and 3000 businesses under water. No words can convey my sorrow and empathy for all those whose lives have been upturned.
The events reminded me of an analogy I came across in my narratology studies. The analogy of a “Narrative Wreckage”.
Events like are described as an “ontological assault” that throws even the most ‘basic, underlying existential assumptions that people hold about themselves’ into disarray. 
I imagine many people living in Brisbane are presently feeling such pain, among the many physical ones.
Occurrences like this cause worlds to be “unmade” – one’s identity and thoughts about the future are thrown into sudden disarray.
One’s basic sense of time is destroyed. Storytelling takes a massive turn. One’s life-narrative must be reconstructed.
At points like this that the Buddhist philosophies of non-attachment show their value: the less attached you are to the things lost, the easier the loss is to deal with.
Even if attached to the things lost (which most of us are), the incoherence in your life narrative can still be repaired.
The repair, depending on the damage, will likely see the creation of a new narrative: one of renewal and redemption, one of hard work and incredible reward. I don’t know if in these situations it helps to consider “the hard road to the good life.”
In an article in the Journal of Happiness Studies, a collaborative group of narratologists write about ‘narrative variations on the good (American) life’ that describe:
‘a gifted (chosen) hero whose manifest destiny is to journey forth into a dangerous world in order to make it better (to redeem it), and who, sustained by deep (intrinsic) convictions, confronts many setbacks along the way, but learns from each of them, and continues to grow.’
The stories ‘celebrate personal growth and redemption stories’ while also affirming ‘the sense that one is special and destined for greatness, that the world is dangerous and in need of the protagonist’s reforming efforts, that the righteous protagonist should never conform but always trust his or her inner convictions, and that good things will come out of suffering, no matter what.’ 
This narrative is so familiar – in our literature, movies, religions and even in our daily stories – yet that doesn’t take away from it’s deep psychological value, nor the difficulty of the experience as it is being experienced. Hindsight is great.
Each of us may be an Average Joe yet through narrative we turn into heroic protagonists, setting out on our own quests and adventures, most likely with something narratlogists call a “generative” aim – leaving some kind of personal legacy, creating positive value for future generations, demonstrating the meaning of one’s life (be it lives created eg via making babies, or through lives touched eg through relationships). 
No doubt cataclysmic events like this change lives. It changes the future. You may even look back one day and be thankful for the path the cataclysm led you to.
As an observer of the cataclysmic trajectory humanity’s narrative seems to be heading, I hope it isn’t insensitive to think about what the Brisbane floods can teach us all?
Human induced global warming or not, our radical global population growth and unsustainable lifestyles indicate our collective narrative is near wreckage.
People may argue that our population will slow as people come out of poverty and women are educated, but where is the sign that either of these things will happen in the near future? The economic pyramid depends on the large base and a huge gap simply in order for the middle and top to move up and live better. The lifestyles of the rich rob the poor of their choices, and rob future generations of their resources. I am, in every aspect of my lifestyle, a cog in this system. While this system poses threat to the narratives of many individually, and collectively, the institutions and society we are born into is not easy to escape, and even harder to challenge.
At difficult times like the Brisbane floods we see the media, the government, the nation, and much of the world, unite in effort to help those in need. Our common humanity triumphs over the economic, cultural, religious, and ideological differences that so often tear as apart.
As we join together to restore the order, to help those in need get back on their feet, I am reminded that humans care. When we see others suffering, we know that it could be us in their place, so we treat those people how we hope they would treat us. Our more superficial aspirations may distract us at times but at the end of the day I think we each feel connected to everyone and everything that surrounds us and that we are a part of.
This gives me hope.
I hope we can find ways to repair the cataclysms that face us in this moment, and to avoid the cataclysms that (on our current trajectory) appear to lie ahead.
 Crossley, Michelle, (2002) Introducing Narrative Psychology, Narrative, Memory and Life Transitions. pp. 11-12.
Michelle refers to Narrative Wreckage analogy from Frank, A (1995), The wounded storyteller: Body, illness and ethics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
 Bauer, J. J., D. P. McAdams, et al. (2008). Narrative Identity and Eudaimonic Well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, p. 98.
 Baddeley, J. and J. A. Singer (2007). Charting the Life Story’s Path: Narrative Identity Across the Life Span. in Handbook of narrative inquiry : mapping a methodology. ed. D. J. Clandinin. Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications: xix, 693 p. 191.
I snapped this in Budapest 2006