Of Tsunamis

Since Saturday, I’ve been trying to figure out what a proper response would be to the disaster currently unfolding in South Asia. I type something, erase it, start over. I can’t think of a ‘proper’ anything-no response, no word, no feeling seems quite adequate. I struggle to find reference points, ways in which the catastrophe could be anchored, compared, examined. But I was not yet born when Agadir trembled. I have only vague memories of television images of Armenia. And Bam was knocked off the news within 48 hours. But this. This is different. The magnitude of the horror seems so great, so unbelievable that no natural disaster of modern times seems to compare. As I write this, the toll is believed to be 80,000, and is expected to climb with the spread of disease.

Most of the 80,000 victims are Asians, of various nationalities, religions, and ethnic backgrounds, though if you were watching CNN you’d think it was mostly tourists who’d been hit. Is the suffering of brown people so common, so habitual, so expected, that we only notice it when Westerners are involved? Perhaps we only notice pain when it has a face like ours, hair and eyes and skin the same as ours.

One thing has been amply demonstrated since the turn of this new century: even as we insulate ourselves, we’re not as remote as we think we are. Connections are there, whether we acknowledge them or, at our peril, deny them. The humanitarian toll of the earthquake and tsunami is only now beginning to be counted, but the economic and political consequences are not likely to be known for quite some time. If you haven’t done so already, consider making a donation to the Red Cross or Red Crescent or UNICEF or any other charity. Or you can go to tsunamihelp which is a clearinghouse of donation numbers, survivor info, tips, and images.

hokusai.png I haven’t been able to write since the weekend. I’ve been reading, but mostly I’ve been day-dreaming, thinking about the significance of this, how it relates to religious belief, and how it relates to art. Amateur video is being replayed on TV, but the image that I can’t seem to shake from my mind is from a print by Hokusai, In the Hollow of a Wave off the Coast at Kanagawa, with the tentacle-like curls of the wave, the fishing boats caught inside it, and Mount Fuji in the background, cold and distant, unaware of the horror beneath.

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