[As I was trying to finish this up, I got word of a massive earthquake that has struck Japan, along with a subsequent tsunami affecting much of the Pacific basin. My thoughts go out to everyone in its path.]
Two and a half weeks ago on February 22, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand’s third largest city. They were hit last September by a 7.1 quake, but this time it was just three miles from the city, at a shallow depth. My first reaction was a very personal one – a deep concern for my dear friend Lizi, who started as an online ‘pen pal’ and quickly became, by virtue of her down-to-earth nature and wicked sense of humor, the sister I never had. I visited her in 2003, she visited me several years later one summer, and we pop in and out of each other’s lives from time to time with lengthy emails. Thankfully she and her family were ok, though dealing with an enormous mess and the tragedy of many lost lives. What followed once I heard back from her was that terrible realization of the fragility of our lives, dancing on the head of a pin as we all are, deeply immersed in the silliest of concerns, and how in an instant, our world can be turned upside down and we’re living inside of a news story instead of watching it passively on CNN.
I had a very small taste of what a natural disaster might be like here in the Northeast when Boston had a water main break back in May of last year, and many of us had to boil water for a few days. A few days. Yeah, like I said, small beans compared to what so many people in third world countries, regions in the midst of wars, experience all the time, as daily routine. I was not heartened by the greed and nastiness I saw from people hording bottled water in supermarkets the day word got out. “Now, this bodes well for a real disaster,” I thought. I sincerely hope I was witnessing an aberration, and not the norm. Yes, we get Nor’easters – bunches of snow, high winds, a torrential downpour here and there. But how would we deal with something bigger than that, something far more out of the ordinary? It’s worth thinking about.
So as these horrible images come in from Japan of the huge loss of life and devastation, and as Christchurch continues to struggle with the aftermath of their own earthquake (pushed now to newpapers’ back pages), we should take a moment from all those petty concerns that seem to loom so large sometimes, and imagine ourselves in a similar situation, running terrified into the street as buildings sway and fall all around us, crawling under a desk at work with our arms over our heads, or diving into a doorway. Are those even the types of things one should do? Send your prayers and well-wishes to those who are dealing with this right now, and also to those who are living in regions uprooted by man-made disasters. Then take a deep breath, and do something nice for someone.
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Japan earthquake coverage on CNN.com.