At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, workers were asked to evacuate because of a cloud of smoke that appeared above them and a sudden spike in radiation levels. I complained about having to wipe the dew from my car windows before making my 40-minute commute to work. As I waited to turn onto Coldwater Canyon, the drivers in front of me were annoying. The street narrowed from two lanes to one, and I was so upset by their aggressive behavior that I merged without bothering to signal.
When I got out of the car in the crowded parking lot at UCLA, I did not find that my science building had collapsed under the weight of a giant wall of water. I did not have to scour through city blocks of debris in search of food or my possessions. I did not pass a single dead body as I crossed the street and took the five flights of stairs up to my office. I noticed that it was a windy day.
Imagine me, sitting in my chair in my fifth floor office beside several dirty windows. The pointed leaves of a liquid amber tree are rustling outside. I can hear the voices of two female students in the hall as they walk by, heading for class. Imagine me turning on my Powerbook, the quiet tone it makes. I type in some letters and check my email and my stocks. Imagine, if you can, me sorting through a crooked stack of papers while I decide what to read first as I continue drafting a report about the effects of nickel toxicity on algae.
Depending on where you are in the world, I could be as close as three feet away from you, or I could be as far away as 5,300 miles away from you. And, yet, we can sympathize with each other, we can experience each other's lives, if only we just try.