Monday, March 14, 2011

One world

All the other news today seems so – so small, next to the news from Japan. I cannot stop thinking about how, while my life trundles on in its pleasantly cocoon-like, middle-class rut, the lives of thousands, maybe millions, of Japanese have been reduced to a long-odds struggle for survival. And that the difference between those people's Monday mornings and mine is an arbitrary shake of the earth.

This post is about what those weekend thoughts made me feel. I rarely write about personal feelings in this blog, but today I'm going to.

As I'm sure you noticed, it was beautiful  here in WMRA Land; warm enough and calm enough on Saturday and Sunday to get outside and do some serious early-spring weeding. Here is a picture of me in my back yard yesterday.

Below is a picture of a Japanese woman around my age, presumably taken this weekend, maybe in her backyard.

What I want very hard to keep in mind today, and tomorrow, and for a long, long time, is that I share a world with that woman.

I also want to keep in mind that hovering and happening nuclear meltdowns threaten the viability of life in Japan.  The unfolding nuclear disaster there is science fiction made real; and it makes me feel subhuman to pretend for a moment that anything else matters in the same way that situation matters.

NHK, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
An explosion Monday at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station blew the roof off the containment building of reactor No. 3, right.  Reactor No. 1’s containment building, left, was damaged in an explosion on Saturday.
Here's an update on the nuclear situation from this morning's New York Times:
As the scale of Japan’s nuclear crisis begins to come to light, experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months. 
The emergency flooding of two stricken reactors with seawater and the resulting steam releases are a desperate step intended to avoid a much bigger problem: a full meltdown of the nuclear cores in two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. On Monday, an explosion blew the roof off the second reactor, not damaging the core, officials said, but presumably leaking more radiation. 
So far, Japanese officials have said the melting of the nuclear cores in the two plants is assumed to be “partial,” and the amount of radioactivity measured outside the plants, though twice the level Japan considers safe, has been relatively modest. 
But Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination.
So there we are. At the moment. And you and I will just have to wait to know where things stand tonight, tomorrow, and for the rest of a long, long time.

Such impersonally cataclysmic occurrences always make me think of the day in 1963 when John F. Kennedy was killed.

I was holed up in an isolated boarding school in Massachusetts. Rumors of Kennedy’s assassination had gone flying around Northfield School for Girls all afternoon, but I’d paid them no attention – rumors were always flying around my boarding school. Then I saw the school’s flag lowered to half-mast and knew this particular rumor was true. I also knew that a far-away action had irrevocably changed the world. Meaning my personal world, isolated as it was by its remoteness and an insular intellectual focus. It was probably the first time I realized that we humans are inescapably intertwined.

What I also remember about that day is how passionately I wanted to do something to help, and how I couldn’t think of anything at all useful to do. The world had been severely wounded, and I had no power to help it heal. I have never, before or since, felt quite so emotionally isolated and impotent as I did that day at Northfield.

Over the weekend, I  found found myself feeling quite differently to the post-earthquake/tsunami situation in Japan; to the realization that the world is enduring what I can only (old hippie that I am) describe as another jolt of cosmic mayhem. Instead of feeling emotionally isolated by this physically far-removed disaster, I've felt united – with the Japanese, with you, with everyone else who gives a damn about something other than her/his own survival as one of the fittest.

The reality is that those of us without specific disaster expertise probably can’t really help Japan or its people in any way other than to give a few bucks, but you and I can help the world by simply resolving to live more decently; to be as kind and useful as we can toward everyone who comes our way. We can resolve to do more quiet good in this troubled, obstreperous, mendacious world; to tone down the mean-spirited shouting we do about stuff that doesn't seem to matter nearly as much this Monday morning as it did last Monday morning.

I feel so strongly today (and most days, actually) that the hard truth is we can only do what we can do to help the world be a kinder, more helpful place, but we must take care to do that. We simply must.

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