As the first video images of Friday’s earthquake in Japan tumbled across the computer screen, I immediately e-mailed a friend whose wife is Japanese—fortunately, both live in the U.S.—to ask if her family was safe.
My friend’s first reply indicated most everyone seemed okay: The parents were stuck on a highway “between Choshi and Tenri,” somewhere near Tokyo. His wife’s brother, also in Tokyo, had to abandon his car and walk three hours and then found his apartment in ruins. His wife’s sister-in-law’s parents live in Tendai and were okay too, the message said.
Scant hours later different news emerged from the fog. My friend’s in-laws turned out to have been in Fukushima, the site of the major tsunami and the Fukushima power plant, which, as of now, appears near meltdown. They’d not been heard from at all. The sister-in-law’s parents were also still missing, fate unknown.
Another twelve hours passed. Saturday morning, my friend wrote that his wife’s parents had at last turned up safe. They’d spent the night in their car on a road between Fukushima and Choshi. But the sister-in-law’s parents remained missing in Sendai.
Come Tuesday, they were still missing. My friend said Google Map photo showed their house still intact with their car outside, which might have meant good news . . . but I didn’t care to ask, how current was that photo?
Wednesday morning, I received word they were still alive. No other news. In Tokyo, the brother whose apartment was wrecked is now without income, and food was running short.
I know, it’s 10,000 miles away and the President reassures us that we’re in no danger in the U.S., but pardon our anxious skepticism. The sour cloud of dread has rolled ashore, anyway, a mist in most everyone’s mind.
My connection with the events in Japan may be tangential, but there it is again. Everything is interconnected. Pluck a string, another moves, for better, for worse and there’s no way to be sure which until it happens.
Only fifty years ago, a similar cataclysm might have brought murmurs of sympathy, charitable donations or provincial and understandable shrugs.
But now, thanks to world’s interconnected economies (of which Japan is in the top five) the specter of nuclear disaster (not mention the goddam Internet), it’s impossible to shrug away the cataclysm.
There’s no Broadway tunes around the graveyard gate to hum for this one. It’s impossible to stand completely apart, an unaffected, atomized mind.
In a broad and disturbing way, it’s everyone’s quake. After all, we’re all on the same shifting, recycling thin crust and breathing the same air, mixed with that cesium or whatever the hell those
reactors are pumping out.
Saying we’re all interconnected isn’t the same as saying “We’re all one.” No choruses of “Kumbaya” please. The ties that bind are tangled and sticky, frustrating and even dangerous to life, limb and freedom.
And sometimes that shiver of the string is just a shiver of the string.
In our journey across this band of life, from one darkness to another, we wander between two states of mind: as individuals and as parts of a larger whole, alone and not alone. Everyone dies, but you die by yourself and no one knows what it is, only the fear it brings to all of us.
Lean too far one way, bind ourselves together too closely, and we find ourselves in the grip of something like Communist/Nazi/Taliban terror. Lean too far the other way, we risk becoming something like China or the Balkans in the years before World War II, falling apart into squabbling self-absorbed atoms, or tribes of atoms, unable to unite in the face of common dangers . . . like Communist/Nazi terror.
Meanwhile, Nature goes on with its inscrutable agenda, mixing life and death together, as Earth recycle its thin crust, over and over through time.
Or sends another disaster, one not so sudden, that insidiously winds its way through the web of life that connects us all, making our planet unlivable for our species. Over time, we find could ourselves fading in terror and bewilderment.
And there’s little we seem able to do, even collectively. We can band together to insist a halt to the building of nuclear reactors or insist no more be built until we’re absolutely sure they’re
absolutely safe . . . but what kind of Universe do we think we’re living in anyway? (Consider me impervious to arguments of American Exceptionalism.)
But if we succeed in stopping nuclear power, that means we continue on with coal and oil, both of which for sure fouling our nest right now.
I have no answers to any of these dilemmas—though you may be able to tell, I don’t find Libertarian bromides to be of much help (If you’re going to head for the hills with your Ronco Survive-a-Pack, some other humans will have built those roads. A village would have decided that it be done).
There’s only my awareness of the dilemma, my sorrow at those lost and the aura of dread at the trouble sure to come, because that’s part of what life is: along with its magic and glories, comes sudden darkness and cruel, unexpected trouble.
AN UPDATE (3/19/11) Yesterday, my friend sent the following e-mail, with an enigmatic photo (which, unfortunately, I was unable to post):
"A little more background: the only clue we have as to the survival of A--'s grandparents is this anonymous handwritten note, photographed with a cell phone and sent out via Twitter chain-letter style. A-- picked it up somehow. Mention of her grandparents is in the fourth line from the bottom. We presume they are in a "shelter," although the shelters have no heat and little food.
I'm not unaware that you, maestro, are also sitting on a Big Crack and that doesn't make me rest easy. Every minute I lived in SF I was aware that it could all end at any time.
Store water and keep your cell phone charged."
Copyright 2011 by Thomas Burchfield
Thomas Burchfield's contemporary Dracula novel Dragon's Ark will be published April 26 by Ambler House Publishing and can be ordered through your local independent bookstore, through Amazon and as an e-book. Other essays and postings can also be read at The Red Room website for writers. He can also be friended on Facebook, tweeted at on Twitter and e-mailed at tbdeluxe [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.