Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some more thoughts on witness

bodies preserved by ash from Pompeii after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius

I said before, like many other people, that it seems impossible to write or think about anything else when so much tragedy is unfolding in Japan. I've scrolled through the photos, looked at the videos, heard the audio footage, teared up at the woman, sitting in the wreckage of her town, and felt my smallness and the preciousness of my children, our lives, all life. What can I do? What can we do? What is happening to this crazy world of ours? When does it end?

I found a list of sixty-six of the world's worst natural disasters and will copy a few here --

Syria - Aleppo - 1138
Earthquake kills 230,000 people

Japan, 1118
Famine wipes out 118,000 people

Egypt and Syria, 1201
Earthquake wipes out 1.1 million people

Netherlands, 1228
floods after a dyke breaks kills more than 100,000

China, 1290
100,000 people dead

Europe and beyond 1347-1350
Bubonic plague kills 25 million

China, 1556
Earthquake kills 830,000

China 1876-1979
Drought and starvation kills 9 million people

I have to think that part of the paralysis many of us feel when seeing and reading about the situation in Japan is because we are, as a people, privy to these disasters in ways that we never were before. I'm not sure the human brain can fully take it all in and then react in any constructive way, outside of literally being there. The ability we have now, through technology, to be there, is deceptive, I think -- we aren't there, really. The beauty, though, of the technology, is that it draws us a bit closer to our fellow humans and enables us, in some small way to be there as best we can.

I saw this quote today of the Dalai Lama, a man I'm certain has witnessed his fair share of cruel natural and human tragedy:

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.

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  1. In line with the Dalai Lama, as reading your list the plague struck me as one of the largest, yet caused by a microscopic bacteria. And it is scary that some man made disasters have numbers even higher (6 million).

    The world is very scary right now.

  2. It does seem overwhelming and frightening to witness all of these disasters, especially from half a world away, but I honestly see it as a way to flex our "compassionate" muscles and bring us all together as humans. It puts a new perspective on the race for economic world dominance, doesn't it? What a great reminder that we are all on the same boat.

  3. You know what- I am not taking this one on. I cannot. And I don't feel that I can do any good for anyone in Japan by being wracked with grief. You're right- before technology, the only natural disasters (or any sort of disasters) which one knew about were the ones within arm's reach. My brain cannot take it in. I am not a Sean Penn, I will not be going to Haiti or to Japan to help.
    I am going to take care of what is here in front of me. I am going to try and be as sane a human as I can be, all the while perfectly aware that everything which happens on this planet affects us all.

  4. I think, when we are walking in the dark, that it does help to know someone is remembering us, somewhere. Someone is praying. Someone is reaching out a hand to say, let me help in this small way. And if a lot of someone's are doing a small thing, that can have a big impact.

  5. I think Ms. Moon has a good point, though. We do have these things right before us. People who need us, still, to be present for them. And it is so easy to get paralyzed with the terrible images that are constantly there before us, 24/7, if we choose. So there is a balance, I guess.

    I keep thinking that it's like a circle, or a pendulum. There is tragedy there, but not here. We have respite, so we can think of them, lift them up, lift a hand to help in some small way. Sometime, the pendulum will swing back this way, and another will have respite to lift us up.

  6. feeling empathy, compassion, knowing there is such great suffering
    is not so much a burden as it is a chance to distill ones hearts, thoughts, actions towards what is of great importance.
    to be present. to make a difference in the lives around us. to love fiercely and to protect our world.

  7. I agree - I think it is too much for humans to take in. In all of those other disasters, word would take a long time to "get out," and it would not be accompanied by video or even photos - it would be described in words, aided by imagination. The onslaught of images and torrent of words is depressing and overwhelming (and some of it is done for commercial purposes, as the media are for PROFIT). But I do appreciate the outpouring of compassion and aid that it inspires.

  8. What has bothered me with the news of late, is the focus and discussion of the nuclear plants here in CA! That is appears they wish to discuss this than what is going on in Japan. The shift to talk away from the epicenter and make it affect CA in that way seems very self-centered. That or the media is unable to get "enough" to report on so why not make something up here.

    Oh how my heart hurts for what is happening in Japan. A year ago my youngest daughter was visiting in Japan...I am grateful I do not have to worry about that if she was there now.

    I am waiting for the positive amongst all this...like when someone lost is found...someone thought dead is alive...I need more of that...

  9. Sad and overwhelmed here too. I just saw this book recommended in response to what has happened in Japan: "The Wishing Year" by Noelle Oxenhandler. It is a woman's exploration of the tension between beauty and suffering. I think I'm going to get a copy.

  10. I'm afraid I have been a bit of an ostrich about this whole thing. I keep looking at the news, getting a basic idea of the update on the horrors, then turning it off quickly and saying quick prayers for those in need, and prayers of gratitude that we're all safe. Then I try to forget about it. I hate being completely useless and powerless. So I try not to think about it. Am I being heartless? Or realistic? I don't know.

  11. I wrote to Meri yesterday:

    "Sad, with an incredible feeling of impotence, unable to concentrate and a sense of loss that I wouldn't have imagined ever before about a 'natural disaster'. Perhaps because there is nothing truly 'natural' about seeing the words of Lao Tzu coming alive before my very eyes: "Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it."

    I hope for peace, for them much more than for myself."

    I feel no different today.

    Donations to Mercy Corp are like a band-aid to a bleeding heart. But at least it is something.

    I remember what Nana taught us when we were children: Happiness when shared is twice as much happiness. Sadness when shared, just half as much. I wish the people of Japan find some comfort knowing that we care enough to pray and to try in our limited way to help them survive this. I can only hope for that.

  12. Beautifully written Elizabeth. With this age of technology that brings these horrors right into our living rooms, it does as well help us to help...

    even in our own small ways.

    thank you


  13. I think it's also good to keep things in perspective. too many people have been talking about "end times" and "we're next," and "earthquakes are getting bigger," and so on. When really, the Earth is a powerful force and we do not have control over her. People die, which is a great tragedy, and now we have the power to help each other as never before. But we do not have the technology to keep ourselves safe from the Earth's changes. It's nothing personal. The Earth isn't out to "get us." It's simply the way things are.

    Rather than fear the end, send help to those who need it, in whatever way you can

  14. Sitting here feeling very small, but remembering that God is very great. Some nightmares only He can venture into.

  15. The Dalai Lama is a very wise man.

    I cannot watch the news. It just upsets me to no avail. I will send money. That's the thing I can do.





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