The theoretical disturbing and upsetting thing about the entire Southeast Asia tragedy is that I don't think it will even compare to what humanity is in store for in the next 20-50 years. Horrific, yes, but just you watch for what's to come....calamity and destruction never before witnessed, but in what form will it take? Human-induced or Nature-induced, or something else?
God Does Not Cause Tsunamis How do you process such an epic tragedy? Where do you lay blame? Can you even try?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
And like millions of Americans, I was on a reasonably relaxing and relatively effortless holiday break with my family when the earthquake/tsunami devastated Asia.
A fact that somehow managed to double if not quintuple the utter surreality of the event, as there I was, sipping wine and sharing laughs and opening gifts and lamenting the lack of Pacific Northwest snow for decent winter photography, safe as could be in a cocoon of middle-class all-American consumer-happy comfort as over 160,000 innocent people, most living in conditions you and I would find intolerable even in our nastiest and most Sally Struthers third-world fantasy, died in a horrific flood in about the time it took you to read this overlong sentence.
And like millions of across the world, I was jarred and horrified and utterly stunned by the raw power and random predisposition of nature, of God, of the universe, of karma and energy and the frail human animal and of water-displacement ratios and plate tectonics and whatever other terms you want to try and use to access the tragedy and believe me, people are trying everything they can think of, because, well, this is what we do.
We try to figure it out. Find a reason. Understand the roots. Blame something. Someone. Somehow.
Maybe this, then, is the most jarring thing of all. Bogus presidents and unwinnable wars and humiliating foreign policy, rabid homophobia and misogyny and pseudo-Christian absolutist agendas that seek to maul the kaleidoscopic nature of the national spirit, these are issues and events we can access, get our minds around, things the media can report on and people can discuss with something resembling articulation and alacrity. And yet here we are, the most massive and horrific disaster in decades, and ... nothing.
There is no available perspective, little by way of opinion or viewpoint except of course for reports covering the turbulent ecology or the amazing survival stories or the massive relief efforts and the U.S.'s initial embarrassing wimpiness therein, coupled with a few mentions of President Bush's own weird and paltry $10K personal contribution. (Note to Dubya: When the spoon-fed multimillionaire WASP president of the United States won't even match the donations of the star of "Miss Congeniality 2," better to not donate anything at all, OK, George? Now go back to your nap.)
Of course it makes sense. Of course there's so little commentary because, well, what can you say? There is no one to blame. There is nowhere to protest. There is no activist group to join or pundit to throw sticks at or candidate to get behind, no issue to rally around and no action you can take besides sending your check and suddenly becoming concerned about the state of tsunami early-warning systems in places you've never even visited and probably never will.
It is, perhaps, the most helpless and disorienting feeling in the world.
And unless you're House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, a charred and black little nub of a human who actually stood up at the White House prayer breakfast last week and read a passage from the Bible that would seem to blame the tsunami's victims for their own unspeakable fate (to listen to DeLay's reading, click here), given how the majority of them were Muslim and therefore they of course believed in the wrong God and therefore got what they deserved ha ha snicker.
And then he sat back down. And lightning, shockingly, did not strike him dead on the spot.
Unless you're a hunk of rank spiritual mold like Tommy, you don't claim any sort of understanding of such massive tragedies, knowing as you do that no matter how you come at it and no matter how many pictures you see and how many island communities and entire cultures you read about that were simply wiped off the face of the Earth, no explanation, no manner of verbiage can possibly do it justice, can possibly frame such epic natural disaster. We simply don't have the tools, spiritual or otherwise.
God fails. Earth fails. Man fails. The disaster, it just is. We stare at it and see the devastation and feel a deep relief that we were spared this time because we know, deep down, it could have very easily happened to us.
And we blink hard and we are touched on some primitive level, some ancient chthonic instinct that hearkens us back to the beginnings of time, before there was a person on the planet to conceive of a god who would gently explain it all away as a grand master plan and you just have faith and stop your worrying there there now. Right.
How could God let this happen? I've read that question a few times, seen that query posed, by adults no less, which is just a bit sad, if not bewildering. As if God really was some sort of bearded and angry old puppeteer yanking strings and wreaking random havoc across the world for mad, inexplicable reasons all while favoring Republicans and evangelical Christians and war, a childish and simple kind of God conceptualized mostly by 5-year-olds and fundamentalist Bush supporters and Mel Gibson.
As if God were not, actually, a raw and deeply pulsing energy force, a vibration, the ambisexual gender-free love-torn luminosity of all things that we as a species can relish and contribute to and celebrate and drink from but that, instead, we seem to be trying very very hard to beat the living crap out of, every single day. You know?
Don't ask why God let this happen. Maybe ask, instead, why the vibration of the world and our treatment of the environment is so low and ugly and un-God-like right now that these things seem more inevitable than ever. Maybe there's a hint in there somewhere. Earth as living organism. Earth as dynamic barometer of our progress and awareness. Earth shuddering at our mad lurches toward war and overdevelopment and overpopulation. You think?
Many, I've read, see the tragedy as a big wake-up call from the universe, something meant to jar us out of our bitter insularity and realize that we are, in fact, one species, one humanity, not all that different and not all that isolated, and, if nothing else, maybe we can feel a few of the barriers normally separating us break down, finally, at least for a while.
Well, maybe. Sadly, this is not the traditional American way. Our cultural memory is terrifically short. Our range of global humanitarian experience is terrifically limited. Besides, we've got a nasty, violent, deadly, unwinnable war in Iraq to keep losing.
Maybe you see such horrors, as I tend to do, as a call to carpe diem, to cherish the day and enjoy the moment like never before and maybe make a change in your life and your perspective before it's too late and because you have nothing, really, to lose, and because life is frighteningly fleeting and it can all be literally washed away in the time it takes to walk your dog to the park and back.
Primordial. Primeval. Prelapsarian. Many other polysyllabic words come to mind to describe the tragedy that only seems to point up the fact that we know far less than we think we know about How It All Works and even less about Why the Hell We Have to Be Here to Witness It.
And what's worse, there's not a damn thing we can really do about it all, except get slapped, again, with the fact that life can be unspeakably violent and brutish right alongside stunning and beautiful, and there is not a single place on the planet that is absolutely free of potential catastrophe or epic disaster or slow and painful rebirth. Nowhere.
And therefore, no matter how many luxury resorts and how much money and how many McMansions and how many manly SUVs we gather desperately to ourselves like hollow and ultimately useless security blankets, this very fact, this slippery transitory insanity, is in our blood, our cells, our genetic code.
And in the end, we realize terror has nothing to do with angry Islamic fundamentalists or right-wing Christian warmongers, and everything to do with surviving this mad shocking circus so as to milk this experience for all it's worth and haul its cartload of shimmering and bloody and fragile lessons to the next level, the next life, the next Mystery.
Could the lesson -- if there is one -- be that simple? And that incredibly difficult?