"The Earth is Quaking
Some Reflections on the Asia Tragedy"
by Daena Giardella
Featured in Earthstar Magazine
As I look at the unimaginable images of devastation and loss in the coverage of the Asia earthquake and tsunami, I am grappling with the overwhelming suffering and grief that is engulfing so many people from so many countries. My heart is broken open again and again as I see the agony and shock of the survivors who lost loved ones. The miles of destruction, the piles of rubble that were once homes and thriving communities, the thousands of orphaned children, the stories of terror and heroism leave me speechless, moved, and profoundly saddened. At times, I feel I cannot continue to look, but I also cannot look away. The geologists and earthquake specialists tell us that these occurrences are part of the earth’s history. The scientist in me understands and accepts that. Still, I find myself searching for a deeper meaning behind these cataclysmic events especially in light of the tremendous political, social and worldwide upheaval of recent months/years.
The earth is quaking. It has literally shaken us. Its very rotation has been altered. Like a lumbering giant elephant that has been patiently carrying us on its back while withstanding the indignities of our mistreatment and disrespect, it has finally met our arrogant self-absorption with an unmistakable rumble. It is as if our planet is saying: “Wake up! You are destroying my environment, polluting my atmosphere, defiling my waters, and defying the laws of nature that are essential for a thriving ecosystem. And you are killing each other in acts of brutal violence all over my land. Wake up! Pay attention to the essential necessity of protecting your water sources from contamination. Pay attention to your respiratory systems as they develop epidemic levels of asthma from the toxic additives you release into the air. Pay attention to the fragility of life, the commonality of all humans, and the universal need for compassion.”
We are reminded that with all our technological and industrial advances, we cannot control nature. Despite all our inventions we remain in the dark ages of ignorance in our lack of awareness of global interdependence. We continue to practice the archaic “eye for an eye” revenge that Gandhi reminded us produces only more blindness. All of life originally came from the sea, and now the sea is chasing after us on the land with a vivid reminder of our shared origins. The massive floods in Thailand, Sumatra, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere are unparalleled in modern history. The water element represents our unconscious drives as well as our emotions. We are challenged to reckon with these aspects of ourselves as we face the fact that we are tiny specks of matter in an infinite cosmos. Our lives come and go in a blink in the eye of time.
The historic tragedy in Asia has the potential to shake us out of our unconsciousness as we realize that we must rely upon each other if we hope to survive. We have an opportunity to cast off our personal/national conflicts, cynicism, hopelessness, insensitivity, conceit and powerlessness as we observe the democracy of loss that is unfolding in Asia. The earthquake and tsunami leveled people from every station in life. Floating in the rivers and clogging the streets of the towns are bodies of those who were once wealthy, poor, educated, illiterate, young, old, righteous and criminal. We humans are similarly vulnerable when faced with the forces of nature, no matter who we are or where we come from. At least two civil wars have been interrupted by these events of nature. Will they continue to fight for turf as they stand shoulder deep in water? We have an opportunity to exercise our higher intelligence in a way that as been sorely lacking, particularly in light of recent events in Iraq, New York, the Sudan, Beslan, Russia, Rwanda, and in so many other places. Will we finally realize the powerful and inescapable importance of interdependence? I hope so. I believe this is our chance to express our generosity, our caring, our sense of justice and civic duty on a worldwide level. Will we rise to the mission collectively as one world? Will our bonds be lasting or fleeting?
It is not appropriate to try to reframe this disaster with a “higher purpose” spin for the people who have lost family, friends and home. They are consumed with the early stages of a deep personal grief that is unfathomable. They need to focus on bandaging the wounded, disinfecting the water sources, finding makeshift shelter, burying the dead and piecing their lives together. But for those of us who have the luxury of witnessing this reality from a distance, I believe it is a time to call forth everything and anything we can do to help, to make a contribution to the relief effort, to grapple with the deeper planetary lessons that might be hidden in this latest emissary from the mysteries of life. We are not in control. We need each other. We are strong and resilient; and we are fragile and mortal. Life is both transient and constant. We are a bundle of dichotomies and contradictions and we must find a way to live together as we reconcile our shadow selves and our more enlightened awareness. Any one of us might randomly end up as a corpse or a survivor. Because there is no political dimension to this tragedy we have a special opportunity. There is no terrorist group to blame. No country to invade in retaliation. No rogue nation to punish. No war to wage as a supreme act of distraction. No one to call evil. In this event, the face of destruction is nature itself—a powerful reminder that creation and destruction coexist naturally everywhere in the universe. The evolution of matter depends on this ongoing dance. Each of us is engaged in a volatile balancing act of higher reasoning and base instinct when confronted with extreme conditions.
We also have extraordinary potential when we bring consciousness to our thoughts and deeds. Think of the man who had just lost his entire family but who felt compelled to find bowls of rice for a stunned tourist family who had survived. Remember the mother, father, and son who nearly drowned in their boat but who also chose to return again and again in the turbulent sea to rescue dozens of people. The human spirit is awesome in its tenacity, dignity, brilliance, and kindness. The power of love is greater than any force of destruction. My prayer is that a sustainable momentum for worldwide unity, peace, and mutual respect will arise from the immense destruction that is gripping our minds and hearts as we begin 2005 together.
Here are some aid organizations accepting contributions for assistance in their Asia Tsunami Relief efforts:
American Red Cross International Services
Doctors Without Borders
Save the Children USA
US Fund for UNICEF
© 2002 Daena Giardella