Saturday, March 12, 2011

I am unable to look away.

The devastation in Japan, it is unbelievable. So many people missing. So, so many dead. My heart aches for all the people who no longer have a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a child, a friend.

This morning I fed the cats and poured a cup of coffee while Em showered. I sat down in the living room, flipped on the BBC while I checked my email just in time to see the first reports of an enormous earthquake in the Tokyo area. I forgot to breathe for a moment and I thought immediately of a friend of mine. She's Japanese. All her family are in Tokyo. As I watched the waves crash over Sendai, sweeping away houses and buildings, tumbling cars end over end, I thought about what it must be like to be so far from family, so afraid for them. To watch the destruction, helpless.

I've suffered the heartache of being far away during the tiny personal tragedies: injuries, illnesses, death. I have never had to watch them televised, powerless even to know if the people I love are okay.

What a word: okay.

I cannot imagine how anyone in Japan is okay today. I think some people must be swollen with relief that they, and the people they love, came through without harm. That they still have each other, that they still have a home. I think some must be bereft, their lives permanently and irrevocably altered. I think many must be shell-shocked, not yet fully comprehending the magnitude of the thing. But I cannot imagine that anyone is okay.

And yet, if this had happened anywhere else in the world, I think how much more damage would have been done, how many more lives lost. I am amazed, watching the BBC, not at the catastrophic destruction, the wreckage, but at how much remains. How the buildings and roads withstood the terrible violence of the buckling earth and the implacable waves that followed. There are a thousand nameless heroes in the engineers of Japan.

The media is saturated with scenes of wreckage: houses crushed into tinder, debris raining down as people scatter to safety, black water engulfing the countryside. For me, the image1 of Japan's disaster is a gargantuan whirlpool spawned from the heaving of undersea plates and whipped by writhing currents. A whirlpool so large that, when the whole of it is in the frame, the boat trapped in its whorl is nearly invisible in the foam. Why that image? Because nature is so immense and we are so tiny, so fragile, spinning out of control and at its mercy.

[1] video from The Telegraph