29 December, 2004

This will be among the most difficult blog entries yet. But it must be written.
In fact, to write about anything other than the earthquake and resulting tsunamis that have ravaged ten countries...would be an insult to the tens upon tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives. To even pretend that something happening in my own life should take precedence over this catastrophe would be unspeakably arrogant of me.
Nevertheless, I want to shirk this duty. I'm afraid my limited skill as a writer will utterly fail to convey the sheer scope of devastation and horror. I'm not sure words exist in English to describe it. I'm not even sure it should be attempted. But it has to be. It has to be.

Before all else, flocks of birds.
They darkened the sky overhead, thousands of them, millions; blotting out the moon, screaming as if the winds of Hell were after them.
Then, flocks of animals.
Predator, prey, it made no difference as they trampled through the forest, an overpowering urge to flee governing every thought. Confined pets wemt wild, howling, yowling, pacing, and pawing frantically. Humans observing this behaviour were perplexed; those trying to quell it were likely bitten or clawed for their efforts.
Minutes passed, perhaps hours. Dawn came.
Without warning, the Earth shook. Those on land were spared the full force, but even diluted, a 9.0 quake is not something to be ignored, or indeed endured. If you happened to find yourself outside, with a vine to cling to, you might have lived. Maybe. Those still indoors were simply flattened as their homes came down on top of them in the blink of an eye.
They would have been the lucky ones.
Almost immediately on the heels of the killer quake would have come a giant sucking sound.
In a different context, it would have been a comical noise, an amplified version of armies trudging through thick mud, or of water gurgling down a drain. There being neither armies nor mud nor drains here on the beaches of Aceh province, the sound of all three converging was bewildering. It came from everywhere, all around. Searching for the source, our shell-shocked earthquake survivor gazed in wonder at the rapidly emptying harbour. Dozens of boats were abruptly grounded as the water receded.
Very few people have seen this sight, heard this noise, and lived.
The water went out so far it was lost to view, revealing a sandy plain, dotted with boats and covered in flopping fish. The sucking sound briefly quieted, simultaneously deepening.
Then, a roar.
The harbour water had been gathered up into an immense wave, and that wave was coming back in now, so fast it was hard to credit. Grounded boats were suddenly immersed, and then lifted with the wave's force.
The ignorant call these tidal waves. No tide on earth could produce such a thing. The sound was deafening. The sound was the wave, the wave was the world, and the world was ending.
The tsunami reached the beach, slowing but building, ever building. Where the works of man offered a trifling impediment to its passage, the wave broke over them and simply...removed them and all they contained from existence. Unless a cliff intervened, the wave would continue inland for several kilomtres, scouring everything in its path, then depositing its cargo of wrecked houses, cars, boats and bodies into unkempt piles. Smaller islands would be entirely obliterated. Entire villages and towns would be washed away. Tens of thousands of human beings, swept out to sea, to wash up along the shores of two continents days later, bloated and fish-pecked.
If this is not Hell, it is Nature's best approximation...

One of the thorniest issues for most people grappling with a Christian concept of God is the problem of evil. If God is all-seeing, all-powerful, and entirely good, where does evil come from and what purpose does it serve? To solve this problem, we have created a devil to act as a foil for God and to take the blame for the evil in the world. I could write a book on the fallacies behind this reasoning. But I dragged this seemingly irrelevant aside in here to make a point: in insurance parlance, this tsunami will be classed as an 'act of God'.
Pretty evil act for an omnibenevolent Being, I'd say.
I can't begin to answer--definitively--why such things happen. But I have a theory, and the key to it can be expressed very simply:

WHAT DO WE DO NOW???

In this almost unprecedented chaos comes almost unparallelled opportunity for great acts of kindness, of charity, of love. The entire afflicted area belongs to the Third World. Such catastrophe, the scope of which nearly defeats the imagination. But it certainly should shift a few perspectives in the world.
Indonesia has been a hotbed of terrorism and a civil war has been festering there as well. The poverty, in Indonesia and elsewhere, was its own disaster, made all the more damning to our Western way of life because we have abetted it. The tsunami offers redress. We have a responsibility, individual and shared, to those members of the human race who are suffering under a burden of loss and sorrow. In the pictures beamed across the planet we see people just like us, having to cope with terror and despair. We are less than human if we do not respond in kind. And while we're at it, we don't have to stop at restoring lives to their former squalor. We can rebuild and improve. It's not as if we don't have the means.

Perhaps this is what 'acts of God' are for. To remind us to act more like human beings.


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