The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan today reminded me of two things: First, that the world has, in some ways at least, become incredibly small as a result of technology. Second, that we puny beings who live on it are vitually powerless when Mother Nature decides to make some grand gesture like an 8.9 quake.
It was surreal waking up to the news today. I thought immediately of all the people I knew living, working and visiting in Japan. After a few hours, word came via Facebook that two friends in Tokyo had survived unharmed. Then this afternoon, another Japanese friend posted to say she was out of the country at the time of the quake. Tonight - finally - a note from my sister-in-law to say that the daughter of a close friend who lives in Japan with her husband and two children is fine too. As I write this, there is still no news on two other friends but they don't live near the coast so hopefully they are okay.
Throughout the day, I sat glued to my office computer, watching the horrifying footage of the tsunami wiping out communities, killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, breathless with fear for the people I knew (and didn't), while my office mates went above their business for the most part oblivious to what was happening, caught up in the daily minutiae of work and family, uncaring that half a world away people stood stunned and weeping at the sight of their lives in ruins. I suppose, it shouldn't have surprised me. After all, I mostly ignore horrific things happening in other parts of the world: Libya, Haiti, Afghanistan, and the Congo to name a few. The difference for me was that I knew people caught in the crisis while my colleagues didn't. And, while they were watching occasional news reports, I was was checking Facebook updates and email for news of friends who seemed so close - and yet so awfully far away at the same time.
And Mother Nature certainly demonstrated her power today. Buildings, ships, cars, and trucks tossed around by tsunami waves as if they weighed nothing. Video footage of a vortex of ocean water so massive it looked like a scene from a science fiction movie.
I was living in Dartmouth a few years ago when Hurricane Juan struck, and I remember well how terrifying it was to lay in complete darkness, listening to howling winds that sounded like a freight train approaching, feeling the house shudder in the face of the storm's force. I remember too that, when the hurricane finally died away and dawn broke, residents stumbled out of their homes to wander the streets, dumbstruck at the sight of ancient trees toppled, roofs ripped away, debris scattered everywhere. By comparision, what happened in Japan today was so much worse. I can't begin to imagine what people there are feeling as morning breaks and they start to deal with the enormity of what's happened.