I recently saw The Impossible on the big screen and was entranced for the entire 114 minutes of screen time. It was beautifully shot, expertly directed, well acted, and if I had one sour taste in my mouth after leaving the theatre it was that not nearly enough respect seems to have been given to Tom Holland for his portrayal of the character Lukas. Upon its release and throughout this past awards season, the acting buzz surrounding this film has been focused exclusively on Naomi Watts. Not wanting to take anything away from her who was great in a role that clearly involved an extraordinary amount of physical demands, but for me the performance that stole the entire show was Holland’s. This young actor gave a deft performance and transcended an on screen role into meeting the emotional and urgency realities of the moment this film was trying to capture.
This film more than any I’ve watched this past year brought back a range of memories and emotions from a prior life. At impact time zero of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in the Indian Ocean I had a day job in an office of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care and was also working a few nights a week at a sports bar in downtown Toronto. For what felt like an endless string of shifts at the bar I remember a sudden sluggishness in my work having crept in as I was utterly transfixed by the images on the television sets of a disaster whose impact, scale and eventual response made redundant our use of the word unprecedented. I was overwhelmed with an immediate inspiration to get involved. I didn’t know at the time whether that would entail getting on a plane, raising money from home or something else entirely – I just knew that I was going to find my way into some kind of helping operation.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time was just how quickly that would occur. Indeed within a couple of weeks I was in an e-mail exchange with Dr Manuel Carballo and his team in Geneva, Switzerland where I had the privilege of interning a couple years prior. Dr Carballo is the Executive Director of the International Centre for Migration, Health and Development (formerly International Centre for Migration and Health – ICMH) and is a giant in the global health arena. Having run operations for the WHO in Bosnia during the Balkans crises, joining the civil rights movement in the United States, leading breastfeeding campaigns in the developing world against intense resistance from multinational formula producers, and teaming up with Dr Jonathan Mann and Daniel Tarantola in the now legendary former Global Programme on AIDS – his attention was now squarely focused on the health of vulnerable people displaced and affected by the Tsunami and the quality and efficiency of the international response mechanisms enacted to help them.
At a moment of serendipity I began reaching out to him just as they were looking for another team member to help research these issues, evaluate what was happening on the ground and at headquarter and donor levels far away; and then write about real time status reports, lessons learned and how aid efforts can be better coordinated and improved upon going forward. Within a few weeks I was packing my bags for a return to Geneva, and in less than a week upon arrival I was asked to look up the VISA requirements for Canadians traveling to the Maldives. And so began two years of incredible professional experience, personal growth, and being touched by so many of the visceral images, herculean logistical challenges and random acts of kindness which The Impossible began to touch upon.
For I imagine a host of reasons I haven’t yet found a way to adequately talk about some of these experiences since coming home in a way that is worthy of what they meant. Perhaps it was too much happening in rapid fire succession, perhaps getting through it required more doing then thinking and reflecting, or perhaps there is another rationale all together. All I know is that I am suddenly motivated to again write about this time and how some of its seminal moments continue to shape how I approach life and work back home in Toronto. While I may do so in blogs and through other mediums, I am not necessarily writing for the purpose of putting something out into the world as much as I am trying to still make sense out of events that were happening too fast to adequately do so at the time.