A profoundly humbling moment

March 14, 2011

The tsunami which swept over coastal areas of Japan this week will rank in our memories as the defining moment of many lives. All over the world humans recoiled in shock, then oozed forward in fascination at this enormous, uncaring power before which we were powerless.

On video we watched the best of buildings — designed and built to protect their occupants through massive shocks – perform their roles well, only then to be swept away by the wave of black water and debris.

We saw the most common symbols of Japan in Canada, small gray and white automobiles, tossed around like marshmallows in the dark chocolate torrent which swept ashore.

Our hearts went out to the people in the vehicles in the path of that tidal wave, people very much like us, whose fear and will to survive we could well understand. In the face of devastation that massive, and the cold, hungry nights of the multitude of survivors unprepared for such hardships, it’s hard even to think of what to hope for them.

It is in the aftermath of the disaster that the grim reality of life and death on this planet unmasks itself. When thousands of bodies drift ashore at the same time, crematoria cannot accommodate them, and cherished notions of order break down. Nuclear generating stations don’t stop producing energy when damaged. Demons unleashed, they continue to erupt radiation and explosive hydrogen, tormenting survivors for the foreseeable future.

Damian Grammaticas of the BBC wrote of the devastation of a small town in Japan: “As you gaze over the wrecked landscape, it feels as if the natural order of things has been shaken, and nobody knows when it will settle down again.”

But we must not make this more than what it is. This is not the end of the world. It’s a routine adjustment of its skin by the planet we inhabit. Earth’s a rough place to live at times, and human intervention had absolutely nothing to do with the initial disaster. That’s a humbling thought.

But it may well lie in the recovery efforts from the flood and the nuclear demons which man has unleashed where we humans distinguish ourselves, and show that we may indeed have some claim to our self-proclaimed title of stewards of the earth.

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