Last Week’s News: Japan is Rocked, Were You? Even a Little?

An illustration from the U.S. Geological survey (via the NY Times) showing the 9.0 magnitude EQ (the measurement was revised up from 8.9) that hit Japan on March 12, 2011.

Has it already been a week since that 9.0 EQ rocked Japan? A week since a tsunami swept over the northeastern portion of the island leaving thousands dead and many many more grieving and shell shocked? (Click here for an amazing and terrifying before and after illustration.)  It doesn’t feel like that short a time span because every day my email buzzes with a NYT alert about the crisis at Fukushimi Daiichi.  I’ve read many stories, and skimmed even more, about the aftermath of the March 12 EQ and tsunami but none touch me more than a New York Times piece about elderly Japanese living in Sendai and Kesennuma.  And those who died. There’s also this piece of coverage.  My goodness.  I was in bed listening to NPR, winding down from my day and waiting for sleep to sweep over me when I read that article.  I shared it with 2 friends who were just as shocked as I was.  My heart dropped because I could not imagine what those people’s last moments were like.  Coincidentally the news item being carried on the radio at that time was an interview with British national living in the EQ/tsunami zone…he spoke about the effect of the disaster on his 7 year old son.  His son was withdrawn, he said; the young man understood what had happened and what was happening, but was subdued and not behaving as he usually did.  How can this kind of event and the devastation it has wreaked not touch you?

Some people that I’ve talked to about what’s happening in Japan seem quite flippant about the situation.  A few admit to just feeling too disconnected because “they” are “over there” and there is no connection to “them”; there’s no friend, relative, or exchange student living in or near Sendai.  OK fine.  (Pause: this has happened “closer to home” just the other day ya know…remember Haiti? Chilé?)  In college I learned (somewhat painfully when I was one of the student leaders trying to figure out how the hell to get students to show up to non-social events & really engage in the discussion) that some folks just don’t care; some don’t have the capacity for it, others are just apathetic or numbed, others overwhelmed with their own personal disasters.  Fine, one cannot take everything up on one’s shoulders.  But jeez, what happened to simple basic common compassion? It’s not the first time that I’ve wondered about the lack of compassion I’m seeing around me.  We just seem to be nastier and less caring toward each other, and for no other reason than we cyaan bodda.  Ugh.

So, of course, I don’t expect you to bawl about or devour every bit of news + get all caught up in the whirlwind of the many shocking and devastating things going on in this world.  But what’s wrong with having a little concern and feeling for your fellow human beings?  It costs you nothing to pause and give a quiet moment of reflection to those who have died or who are injured, or to those who are grieving.  It costs you nothing to refrain from making some crude joke or brushing off someone else’s suffering.  It costs you nothing yet I think you benefit quite a bit from it…the benefit lies in not going through life stone cold, untouched, and oblivious to the plight of the several other billion people who occupy the Earth with you.

Japanese soldier rescues an elderly man affected by the EQ. (Image from

I am told that I need to develop a thick skin and not let things bother me so much…perhaps…for some things, probably…but it’s not something I’m willing to do if it means not being able to hear about something happening miles away (or next door, even) to another human being who bleeds red like I do, who has hopes, dreams & plans like I do, who loves like I do, who gets angry and frustrated as I do and not have it in me to pause for even 3 seconds to think about their plight and pray that it gets better or didn’t have to be that.  Just a brief pause in your day to acknowledge that something really horrifying has happened.  Maybe that small pause will lead you to be more grateful about your life or to be kind to someone you meet.  Or it could just bring some (needed) perspective into your life.  Imagine that.

Apparently cultivating this thick skin would also help me to be unsurprised that folks like Rush Limbaugh exist to poke fun at Japanese living in shelters who dared to organize a recycling system.  People like him really exist? People who think somehow that this is some kind of punishment: “Even now, refugees are still recycling their garbage, and yet Gaia levels them , just wipes them out. Wipes out their nuclear plants, all kinds of radiation. What kind of payback is this?” Mr. Limbaugh says.  Really.  Please, God, tell me I’m in a Star Trek episode and he is some sick joke courtesy of Q!   But this is not unique to him.  When the tsunami hit Indonesia in 2005 a family friend came to visit Grandpa (I was home that Christmas) and as we were watching the news coverage of the tsunami, his comment was to the effect of “Well all dem do is worship cow ova deh so ah dat fi happen.”  I stared at him and said not another word for the remainder of his visit.  Maan I wanted to smack the shit out of him, and to this day I’ve never spoken to him again (for other reasons too but that comment sealed it).  That’s what lack of compassion gets you: indifference and willful ignorance.

My friend Nicky and I were talking about all of this the other night.  Her take on it is that “People justify their ill feelings about others based on what they think their moral life is worth.  Criminals, derelicts etc have no moral value in the public’s eye.  But a whole country? No sah.  No one deserves that.” I agree.  I get that there needs to be rules for society (re: crime/criminals) but to apply that blanket blind judgment to millions who happen to have been in place A at time X is just…wrong.

I’m reminded of many a morning worship in prep and high school when we sang “No Man is An Island”….

We are all different; we have different priorities, likes & dislikes.  I get that.  But I don’t get the callousness that we display toward each other…there is too much indifference going around and that’s a problem because it leads to willful ignorance.  And ignorance is not bliss.

2 Responses to “Last Week’s News: Japan is Rocked, Were You? Even a Little?”
  1. Shumpynella says:

    Ignorance is deadly. We stay in the dark at our own expense…I hope one day people we see the value of being informed and compassion. They could be half a word away – aren’t we breathing the same air?

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