Monday, December 27, 2004

What do you say?

What can you say?
Bodies washed up on tropical beaches and piled up in hospitals ... across a 10-nation arc of destruction left by a monster earthquake and walls of water that killed more than 22,000 people. Thousands were missing and millions homeless. ...

More than 12,000 people died in Sri Lanka, nearly 5,000 in Indonesia, and 4,000 in India.
It started with an earthquake, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, one of the biggest in the region in the last 200 years, a force roughly equal to a million Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs, a force sufficient to make the Earth "wobble a bit" in its rotation.

The tsunami it generated swept across the Indian Ocean at 500 miles per hour to bring devastation and death at least partly because there is no warning system in place in the Indian Ocean that could tell people of its approach - and so people went about their daily lives, swimming, shopping, working, not knowing until they saw
the tide off [the] beach recede suddenly.

Out it went, leaving about 200 meters (yards) of exposed sand, like a giant drawing breath.
And maybe not even then, not until it all returned as a wall of water as much as 20 feet (6 meters) high, sweeping away, smashing away, everything in its path.

And nobody is kidding themselves that the destruction has ended.
Hundreds of thousands have lost everything, and millions face a hazardous future because of polluted drinking water, a lack of sanitation and no health services....

The International Red Cross, which reported 23,700 deaths, said it was concerned that diseases like malaria and cholera could add to the toll.

Late Monday, Indonesian Vice President Yusuf Kalla was quoted as saying he believed the toll in the country could be as high as 25,000, that would be 20,000 more deaths than confirmed there so far and push the overall death toll to 42,000.
Sometimes, we are so aware of our power against each other, so aware of our power to kill, so arrogant in our notion of what we control that we forget how frail we are in the face of nature. Sometimes we forget how small we are. And small is what we are. Do you want to know how small? Do you? Here's an example I used to use in astronomy lessons:

Imagine squashing Mt. Everest down to sea level. You will have made only about 2/3 as much difference in the radius of the Earth as removing one sheet from a ream of paper makes in the thickness of that pile.

We are small. We depend on the Earth, it doesn't depend on us. It got along quite well for a few billion years before we came along and would do quite well for a few billion more - until the Sun dies and quite possibly fries the Earth in its death throes - if we were to disappear. Global warming? Pollution? Resource depletion? It doesn't matter to the Earth. It only matters to those of us who depend on it.

We are small. We are weak. We need each other. Which only makes what we are doing to each other in the name of our ideologies, our god-figures, our greed, our arrogance, that much more an expression of madness, of an insanity that has afflicted humanity for millennia. I remember several years ago writing to a friend who had made a difficult confession of how he had finally faced up to a problem he'd been denying and was harshly critical of himself for having taken so long to do so. I offered some words of comfort, noting that it was always hard to "rethink ourselves, possibly from scratch" and that we as people are terribly clever at finding ways to avoid "the terrifying 'threat' of change."

We as a species have avoided that rethink for far too long, maybe - and maybe not, I even think not, but maybe - past the point of no return. But as I said just yesterday, when the choices are dreaming or despair, I prefer to dream. I prefer to hope.

But even hope has its limits. Change we must, somehow, some way. So where do we go from here: chaos or community? The choice still faces us. Time has not run out. But it is running.

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