It’s been hard to focus this week. I spend any spare moment rushing to my computer to read the latest updates on Japan, tuning to NPR news at the top of each hour, or watching BBC news on the TV. As the catastrophe unfurls, we get to sleep in warm beds, fill up on fresh food, and enjoy creature comforts like heat, electricity, kitchens at the ready, closets full of clothes, shelves full of books, albums full of photos….and put our arms around our loved ones, who are alive and well. It’s so difficult to make sense of these blessings when others have lost everything — and when we do not, in fact, even know the ultimate outcome of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant and how the Japanese people may yet suffer on an even greater scale.
I am so consumed by this continually unravelling loss — and find myself perplexed by how many people around me don’t seem to be troubled by the scale of human suffering that is happening in Japan, or even how these issues may potentially affect those in the US. I do have relatives in Japan (they are reportedly safe, but evacuating), although I don’t think that that’s why I’m so riveted.
Horrible things happen all around the world every day, but this catastrophe is in many ways unprecedented. And it’s a story — a story that is still being told. How can one not be on pins and needles, if not consumed by empathy? It doesn’t seem like the time to go about business as usual. In the days following 9/11, everything ground to a halt. Media outlets gave continual coverage — even eliminating commercial breaks — for quite some time. Yes, 9/11 was an attack, not a natural disaster, but the loss of life in Japan has already far outweighed the loss of life on 9/11, and the number may yet skyrocket. Add to that the perilous nuclear situation, and we have a terrifying reality, regardless of the many what-if outcomes. Japan is on the other side of the world, but these are people. Beautiful people who live with a grace far beyond what most Americans can muster. They inspire me as my heart aches for their utter loss. What must it be like to have your own child ripped from your arms as a tsunami wave destroys everything that ever mattered?
But again, this difficulty in reconciling the blessings that some of us have against the apocalypse that others are navigating. How to live with what can border on a sense of survivor guilt? I posed this question to Robin Norgren earlier in the week, and she had an eloquent response. I share it here, with her permission:
It is INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to reconcile the pleasure of one group of people against the pain of the other EXCEPT for me to deepen my sense of gratitude in my life. This year I felt like I needed to give more time at the local level which is the only step I can do with hubby still deployed and little one still at home, and I know we both share that constraint.
I think that your going through the certification is also a part of giving back: committing to the program and then helping others find their sense of gratitude through creativity. I find the the CREATIVE PEOPLE are the ones that tend to give back more because their hearts are more open to the world. Does that make sense?
Yes, Robin, it does. We do have a responsibility, all of us. Live life to the fullest — this precious, fragile existence that we seem to see as an obstacle more often than not. Go out and live. Hug your children. Paint that painting. Write that book. Give. Foster someone else in some small way. Look at the sky and smile to be alive. Celebrate life today, while sending thoughts and prayers and donations to those who so desperately need them.