Wednesday, March 16, 2011

5,300 miles

Sendai, Japan is about 5,300 miles away from where I live in Sherman Oaks, California. I woke up grumpy this morning because I didn't get enough sleep as a result of daylight savings time. I brushed my teeth. I fixed my hair. I put on a blue shirt and fretted for a moment because it had too many wrinkles in it. For breakfast, I had a bowl of Cascadian Farm Organic Dark Chocolate Almond Granola Cereal.

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.


  1. I've been watching the news every night. And every night I cry. Monster Child becomes upset when she sees me cry. Last night I tried to explain to her what happened and why I was upset.

    And she asked, "Why did God make this happen?"

    I wished I could explain it to her.

  2. You put that very well, Domey. It's so easy not to appreciate what seems mundane and, actually, isn't mundane at all.
    I still think of you as Davin, and, although we've never met in person, you are so real to me. I believe our online connections are often made from the deeper parts of ourselves, at least for the writers I've met.
    My heart has been aching, my stomach upset, ever since the disaster began in Japan. I cry for people I will never know, and I worried for Claire Dawn in Iwate, a blogger I know as I do you. She posted she is okay, and this is a relief of big proportion to me.

  3. Beautiful post. We take so much for granted even when we actively try not to. I've been thinking constantly about Japan.

  4. Anne, I'm sorry that you are so sad, but I do really appreciate that you can cry about this. I keep trying to feel more, to understand everything I can about what all of those people in Japan are experiencing.

    Tricia, I am just really hoping that other people can feel how real the situation is there. With the internet, distance isn't as much of an issue these days. But, I wonder how deep that closeness is. You and I feel connected, and I hope that people can feel connected to Japan in a similar way.

    Paul, it has really been bothering me lately how I can just go on living my "normal" life in the wake of any bad news. I guess I'm striving to feel more connected to the bigger world than I currently am.

  5. Beautifully written reminder, Domey. I was thinking the same thing as I complained about the mud in my driveway from the snow melt and the pot holes in my road as I merrily went on my way. The mud will dry and soon we'll be complaining about a lack of rain. I pray the containment structures hold.

  6. Thank you. I've been having a very hard time connecting to the concept of the disaster in Japan so . . . just thank you.

  7. Having survived a number of disasters myself--the worst being a huge tree falling on my bedroom in the middle of the night almost killing us in our sleep and causing $50K+ of damage to the house--I can sympathize with what they are going through and I'm very thankful that I get to slop around the computer most days.
    The lesson everyone should take from this is to BE PREPARED because someday disaster WILL STRIKE. We were out of power for 4 days in the middle of winter (my mom's place was out for 8) after that.
    So I don't see a problem going about your daily lives without worrying too much about Japan, because none of us live without the specter of disaster at some point in our lives. Japan hasn't been singled out; it's just their turn. The best thing to do is donate to the Red Cross or other reputable organizations, because when it's our turn then hopefully the Japanese will be here for us.

  8. Yvonne, I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. I needed some way to express what I was experiencing, and this is what I came up with.

    Taryn, thank you for stopping by and reading.

    Andrew, I think it is a very good lesson to be prepared. That's something that I am not, and I always seem to put it off. I need to take action.

  9. Andrew's comment gets at why the news from Japan is so dispiriting to me. Not only is there a horrific tragedy in Japan, I also feel endangered personally. My animal hackles are raised, my fight-or-flight response is going off. Friday morning when we saw the news I had a sudden image of the Earth as an old, old creature no longer able to hold its shape, breaking apart at the seams. It made me want to weep. I still feel that way about our poor ancient planet. We are all so vulnerable and we forget that, distracted by petty selfishness and hate. I live in an earthquake zone. Some day a quake will come. Maybe it will bring down the section of elevated freeway my bus will be on, or bring down the building I'm in, or wreak havoc in the part of town Mighty Reader happens to be in at the time. We can't control any of that and there's really only so prepared you can be for a real disaster. I will blithely go about the rest of my day, have a latte and think about lunch and email my besties and see who's posted about what and look at cute animal photos and all of that, while in the back of my mind I'll remain terrified and think about not thinking about Japan.

  10. The world and eternity are awfully heavy on the mind, let alone on the heart.

  11. This is beautiful, Davin. As you already know, I've struggled with handling all this in my head, but I think that's how it should be.

    I love what Tricia says about online connections. You and I have never actually "met", but I consider you one of my best friends. We're not 5,300 miles apart, but we were closer to that at one point when you were in France. It didn't matter then, either.

    Scott's comment really got to me. I live on a huge fault line. It's possible I might die because of it one day, or my loved ones will. Even then, we must continue on as prepared as we can possibly be in the face of things so much bigger than ourselves.

  12. sure does have a way of putting things in their proper perspective...

  13. Scott, yeah, I've felt bad for the earth for a long time. I feel bad for it as an entity and I feel bad for all of the life that lives upon it. It is this thing in the back of my mind, like you say.

    Nevets, yes.

    Michelle, I know you reacted to this very deeply. It is bigger than ourselves. In a way, I appreciate that. I appreciate being part of a larger whole and I appreciate that when we are at our best we can feel things as a whole.

    jbchicoine, yes.

  14. I appreciate being part of a larger whole and I appreciate that when we are at our best we can feel things as a whole.

    This strikes such a chord with the perplexingly optimistic existentialist streak in me -- the idea that when presented by a challenge too great to handle, we are at our best. It is while trying to come out of of the pit of the absurd, that both the individual and the group find their true strength and have their moment of greatest meaning.

    At the risk of revealing the incredibly lame wizard behind the creepy curtain, this is why I all but weep at the scene in the movie version of The Two Towers when the elves come to stand with men and face the greater evil together.

    But sitting here, just knowing... feeling... thinking... is emotionally exhausting.

  15. This is such a thoughtful post, Domey. So often we get caught up in our own little "struggles" and we forget just how challenging life truly is when things that are beyond our control strike.

    I feel for the people of Japan, and they are in my thoughts often as I go about my ordinary day and count my blessings.

    Here, I've called you Domey :-) and most of the time I don't even comment in Literary Lab (I'm shy like that), though I read just about daily. We've made a connection!

    Thank you for the heartwarming read.


  16. I was going through my own sheltered themes of disappointment and complaint, and then I saw a comment on FB from one of my Japanese friends in Tokyo, and it all just disolved. I felt so helpless, because I couldn't help her. And more helpless because it feels like this giant threat of radiation... still isn't likely to push the world into weening themselves from Nuclear energy. How easy it is to believe "But that'll never happen to me."

    Great reflective post.

  17. Nevets, it wasn't Twin Towers, but Lord of the Rings was the first movie to ever make me cry.

    Nevine, Thank you very much for connecting like that! It is a wonderful feeling. I know this isn't the first time I've heard from you, obviously, but it is great to feel this connection.

    Shephard, Helpless is a really good way of expressing how I felt as well. Sometimes the disaster is so huge that it seems like there's nothing we can do. I just try to remember that even little things can make a difference.

  18. Thank you for this, Domey. That's all I can say. Words fail.

    Anne- I cry every time, too. It never gets easier to see.


  19. Domey,

    I feel only three feet away from you, not 5600 miles away. One of good things came out of this disaster is that we realized how much we've depended on the electricity. In Yokohama, we have outage right now on and off for three hours at a time, and so far, not more than twice a day. Right now, I'm hopeful to hear a good news because fire fighters had thrown 50 tons of sea water into the reactors. Maybe, it isn't a complete solution, but I expect the radiation rate to go down.

    Thank you for the post.



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