When Disaster Strikes Far Away

Half way around the world people’s lives have been permanently altered. My life is normal except for extra chatter on twitter, facebook, and news sites. My heart goes out to the Japanese people, but my hands are too far away to help them. The temptation is to glue myself to my computer, watching every update as it rolls in. I did this on September 11, 2001. I did it for Katrina. I’ve since learned how unhelpful such behavior is to anyone. It is important for me to be generally informed, but up-to-the minute updates only create urgency and stress in my mind and body. Images of disaster cause a physiological reaction, my body prepares to respond to imminent danger. There is no danger for me. The danger is half a world away. I am left in a hyper-reactive state during which my brain retains information more fully. By hyper-focusing on disaster news, I can create in myself a traumatized state. I can trigger the same in my children if they follow my lead. I think the world has a sufficient load of trauma today. No need for me to add to it unnecessarily.

Two days ago Kiki was host to a Japanese exchange student. This girl went with Kiki to every class. They talked, laughed, exchanged email addresses, and discovered that they share the exact same birthday. The exchange student was due to return home to Tokyo tomorrow, she will now be staying in the US for another week as she waits for the chaos to calm down at home. Her family and friends were in the middle of the mess. Kiki’s Japanese class spent most of their class time today watching video and talking about the earthquake and tsunami. Then, of course, they talked about how Utah is located on a large fault which is geologically overdue for a big quake. Kiki was a bit shaky and scared when I picked her up from school. My calmness reassured her instead of adding to her stress.

I spent some time today looking up the current status of other disaster zones. Christchurch, New Zealand has just begun to repair. Haiti still needs help. New Orleans is still far from where it was before Katrina. But in all these places new stories emerge, stories of strength and overcoming adversity. It is easy to forget in the deluge of stunning video that there are places which have been through as bad or worse and have begun to recover. So I scan the news lightly every couple of hours. I make donations to disaster relief organizations who have the hands, experience, and personnel to deal with the emergency. Then I take my hands and find something to do in my own neighborhood which will add to the good things in the world.