A tsunami devastates our cultural myth

March 15, 2011

Culture, Fear of God, Spirituality

By Charles Redfern

The Japanese cataclysm trawls our depths and sifts our core.  It’s eerily personal.  The weeping victims wear shirts and jeans; painted lines run down the middle of the smooth, tsunami-swept streets; the cars, heaped like so many matchbox toys, are the latest models from … well, Japan.

We feel for the victims in disaster-prone lands, of course – we drop in the One Great Hour of Sharing donations every year; some of us fly there on missions trips.  But Japan?  No.  Can’t be.  They’ve done everything right.  They’ve built sea walls and earthquake-proof buildings.  They’re orderly, disciplined, and streamlined.  They’re the ever-ready society.   Japan is a member of the G-8, like us.  The Japanese throw themselves into an exhausting work ethic, like us.  They educate their kids and plan and prepare, like us …

The Japanese are just like us! They are us!  And if it happened in Japan, it can happen here – to us!

Suddenly, life really is frail.  If Japan teeters, we teeter.  If the Japanese live on the precarious brink, so do we.  We see our peril with a glance at the map:  Japan lies in the Pacific’s so-called “ring of fire,” a series of earthquake and volcano-spawning tectonic plates that swings north and west.  It gave us the Great Alaskan earthquake of 1964, which registered 9.2 on the Richter Scale (stronger than Japan’s).  It circles south, into the Pacific Northwest and dormant Mount Reiner, which could spew pyroclastic flows into the Tacoma and Seattle suburbs, and then through Oregon and California and its nuclear plants – one of which was built to withstand a 7.5 earthquake and another with only a 7.0 tolerance level …

Frail … teetering … precarious brink … Our supposed immunity to culture-devastating catastrophe vaporizes into myth.

If Japan is us, then we are Japan.  One tectonic shift and Malibu is tsunami driftwood;

Rolls Royce’s and Bentleys are piled high in rusty heaps.  My own favorite childhood scenes look like shattered sticks: Santa Monica, Seal Beach, and Long Beach. Transportation is severed and our vegetable supply dwindles and food prices spike.  We can’t even think the unthinkable: Will we ever farm the San Joaquin Valley again?  We don’t know.  There’s no electricity for tweeters and reporters are barred from the scene because of possible radiation fallout:  It’s just a precaution … no need to panic … everyone stay calm …

Suddenly, we’re walking our ancestors’ paths, where slight weather shifts brought famine and migration.  A little turn of the Earth’s crust … one alteration … And life changes forever.

So we fervently pray for Japan, driven by genuine compassion and empathetic grief as well as the mirror’s image.  We’re praying for ourselves, because Japan is us.

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About Charles Redfern

Charles Redfern is a writer, activist, and clergyman living in Connecticut with his wife and family. He's currently writing two books, with more in his head.

View all posts by Charles Redfern


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