Friday, March 11, 2011

Nowhere to run to

And so it happened again, a major earthquake that generated a devastating tsunami—this time off the coast of northeast Japan. The horrific images of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that rolled in over Thailand and Indonesia are still vivid in my memory. This quake in Japan was a major one—a magnitude of 8.9 on the Richter scale is being reported, and that is scary enough. Just as disturbing are the video footages of the tsunami sweeping across coastal farmland carrying boats, cars and burning houses in its wake. Other videos show submerged cars and boats being pushed toward a highway overpass, and it is both terrifying and amazing to see how boat masts are just crushed like plastic toys. I watch such scenes and cannot help but think of the Mayan prophecy that says that the world will end in 2012 (more precisely, the Mayan calendar ends on the Gregorian calendar date of December 21, 2012 which has led to intense speculation about what this means for the planet). And if you have seen the film 2012 (not very good except for the special effects for earthquake scenes and subsequent destruction) you will understand that there really is nowhere to run when these types of things happen, because there is usually very little warning. I am glad that we do not live in a geographical area that is prone to earthquakes. My thoughts go to the Japanese people—I hope and pray that there will not be a huge loss of life as there was in Indonesia.

The power and fury of nature and of water never cease to amaze me. I just wrote about the Akerselva river and how its fish and insect life died in the space of one night due to a chemical spill. But the river itself keeps running down to the sea and hopefully always will. Back in November 2000, unusually large amounts of rainfall in Oslo resulted in extremely high water levels in the Akerselva that threatened to flood surrounding areas. We live about a five-minutes’ walk from the river, at a point where there are small waterfalls. When we opened our apartment windows facing toward the river, we could hear the river as it roared past. We joined many others who stood watching from a safe distance as this ordinarily peaceful river roared mightily past us. The spray from these falls was so intense as to take your breath away. I have never seen so many people out late in the evening, watching the river, photographing and filming its wildness. We are drawn to that which scares us. We watch even though we don’t want to. Even in the current video footage from Japan, there are motorists on the highway overpass who got out of their cars to see what was going on, in spite of the huge danger. I would like to think that I would have floored my car and sped off. But who knows, perhaps it was smartest to stay on the overpass bridge. It seemed to be made of solid cement and to be able to withstand the onslaught of the ocean water, and it was not submerged, at least not at the time point that the video footage was shot. I hope so anyway. The tanker truck that stopped on the bridge remained there. Perhaps the driver understood that there was nowhere to go. That must be the scariest thought of all—that there is nowhere to go, nowhere to run to. The digital age, with the ability to send live footage in the space of a few seconds via iPhones and cell phones generally has brought with it the possibility of literally stepping into another person’s shoes, for better or for worse. We know how they must feel. We see how horrific it is and know what they face. Nowhere to run to—a sobering thought that pulls us out of ourselves for some minutes and makes us see what is happening elsewhere. We are forced to face our mortality. And it is not war but nature that does this to us. 

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