Warning: there will be no pretty pictures attached to this post.
As you may have gathered from the last few posts, our family has been pulled at by many negative forces lately. No amount of positive thinking seems to shake these things off, to the point where it sometimes feels like there's some grander, cosmic force at work, compounding mishap to mishap.
Last Saturday morning however, those things were put into the right perspective in one fell swoop by the magnitude of the natural and manmade disasters who's powers have (literally) been shaking the very foundations of the earth. The aftershocks of Japan's earthquake still continue to ripple through all of us, whether physically, or emotionally. In a globalized world, everything instantly touches everyone. From Calcutta to Austin, Paris to Tuvalu, we are now all connected for better, but more often, it seems, worse.
One too many civil wars and draughts battering you day to day, between commercials about insulin pens and shows about unnaturally attractive people's relationship woes, and they might just begin to seem very distant. As a friend once pointed out: "most of the time, you can only care for the 100 people physically closest to you. Everyone else is always a little bit abstract."
Sometimes we literally have to shaken out of our complacency in the face of tragedy.
The cataclysmic event and in Japan, is just the kind of super-disaster that can often draw more of our emotional attention than the ongoing unrest in the Middle-East, the continued unraveling of East African nations, the plight of homeowners facing evictions, the racist policies of EU-countries that single out certain ethnicities as second class citizens, or heck, the exact same thing happening here in the US.
Not only is the tragedy unfolding in Japan, dramatic and urgent, but it's also easily relatable because they are a technologically advanced Westernized nation, just like the rest of us here in the hyper-connected developed countries. When a massive tsunami hit Indonesia and Thailand on December 26th 2004, at least part of the massive media attention awarded to it had to do with the number of Western tourists there at the time. It also garnered a record amount of international aid and donations from private people. There was a collective sense of effort: we could fix this. For once, there was something we could do.
As the days dragged on in the last week, our alarm for the people in Japan, whole towns erased from the face of the earth, loved ones gone forever, homes ripped apart and now facing an ever increasing threat of a nuclear disaster seems to have turned into a concern for our selves, especially here Western coast of the US.
We are no longer as concerned for the lives of the people dealing with the immediate fallout, who have no place to go, who's food systems are now beginning to get effected, or the heroic men and women who are putting their lives on the line to try cool the exposed fuel rods in the heart of the Fukushima reactor, the short and longterm effects of radiation on ecosystems, many of which are connected to us through the complex biological network that is the Pacific Ocean.
Suddenly we are all hoarding iodine tablets and sharing survival tips, lest the radiation reach us in the next few days, carried by the unpredictable winds. The world seems more fragile now, dangerous the way it used to during the cold war, the way it did for many in the the days after 9/11, like it could all just vanish while we're looking out the window.
What is the point, we seem to wonder now. What is the point of birthday parties? Of planting a garden? What is the point of making a meal? The point of watching the deer? Of driving to work? What is the point of fixing a broken ladle? Hanging the laundry? What is the point of blogging?
There actually seems to have been a small exodus from blogland in the last week. We are holding a little tighter onto our loved ones, shutting off our TVs and computer screens. Some have found themselves speechless in the face of this disaster. Some state briefly that it seems strange to blog when the world has been turning upside down, but that good, positive things must still be shared. Others have gone on as though nothing is the matter. A reader in Japan commented (So many good thoughts to you, Brenda.) on my last post that many of her favorite blogs have completely ignored the whole matter, as though the real world doesn't carry over to this electric fantasy-land we spend some time in.
Perhaps it doesn't.
Having always believed that blogging like anything else we do must come from a sincere place in our selves, I felt strange about going on with my garden, rowboat, herbal remedies and recipes and vintage dresses, my wood-carving husband, my crazy cat, my books, movies, moon parties, wild women...
It seemed like the destruction in Japan, the sudden sense of apocalyptic ennui, the hysteria surrounding me with it's iodine-scented conversation, was the final straw. For a few weeks since we returned from California I've been contemplating quitting blogging all together. One of the many negative forces currently engulfing my life has been in this circle that has always been a refuge, a supportive place of positive woman energy. There is insecurity and competitiveness (not mine) where sheer joy should be. Perhaps, I thought, this is a sign that it's time to move on. I closed the computer. I followed the news. I tried to work through the problems tangible in front of me, one by one.
Then, two days ago, on the ferry, trying to recover from another personal blow, I looked out the window at the spring green islands stretching on, it seemed, towards a snow-capped mountain in the distance. I thought of my mother, who one spring morning when I was seven, closed all the windows and forbade me from going out for days.
The town I grew up in lies about 750 miles from the site of the worst nuclear disaster in our history and the prevailing weather patterns dumped a lot of the fallout less than 50 miles south of where we lived. My mother was very educated about the potential effects of such an emergency and we had the iodine tablets to prove it. It was a beautiful, unusually warm week. Everyone was out playing in the sunshine. My mother kept the radio on, waiting for something, a government emergency signal, the health administrations orders to take the iodine, a declaration of a state of emergency, but nothing came. Eventually we emerged, blinking into the sunshine.
Later they discovered that most of the airborne radiation had gone into mushrooms and lichens and trees, not affecting us quite us directly as my mother had feared, but rather infiltrating the whole foundation upon which our lives are built.
I sat there on the ferry and thought about my mother and her fear, her need and will to protect me. I thought about what we can do in the face of our fear for the fragility of the world.
We can go outside into the sun. We can live. We can plant gardens. We can hold our loved ones tightly. We can reach others across the world through our strange digital means. We can remember the dead and pray for the living. We can protest the powers that be. We can sign petitions. We can conserve electricity. We can leave negativity for those that cling to it. We can try to be happy. We can try be honest. We can try to be our best selves. We can not be afraid. We can dance under the brightest moon.
"We're only human, this at least we've learned."