What the Earthquake Tells Me About Life


The pictures and videos are all you need to understand that Japan has a long and painful road ahead even before the recovery can begin.  But for now, I am thankful that family, friends, and everyone I know in Japan are safe.

When something like this happens to a place and people you know very well, I think it reveals a lot about the conflicting aspects of what we call our life and world.

I’m most amazed by the power of nature.  A city of Sendai, the 11th largest in Japan with a little over one million people, was washed away.  There are cars on rooftops and in schools.  The airport is an island, with the runway turning into a river.  Only the foundation of houses remain.  The ground shook and livelihood built over decades was lost.

Japan is a first world country that’s accustomed to earthquakes.  Yet people are now without access to power, gas, food and water.   Decades of infrastructure gone in a matter of hours, the barricade, precautions and the preparations the community undertook making little difference.  I look at how quickly even the industrialized Japan tumbled back to the stone age and am reminded that, as far as we have come, we are utterly futile, always at the mercy of nature.

At a time like this, we all ask “why.”  I am a religious person, but my faith needs far more growth before I can understand the answer to that question.  It is often said that there is suffering and evil in this world because how else would we know if there is good?  The best response I heard–and the one I fully share–is to tell that to those who suffer.  I refuse to believe that a good, righteous God brings ill upon the some so the others can feel good.

There was a lot of ill, sadness and devastation brought onto the island country on Friday and more will come.  And while I haven’t experienced the suffering, I can certainly feel it.  A town with 19,000 missing, likely mostly dead, reads like a statistic until I see the pictures and visualize how the water must have swept them away in cars and homes.  The headline that 200 to 300 bodies have washed ashore reads simultaneously both inhumane–in the way lives were so quickly, universally lost–and human–in the sadness of knowing what loss of so many lives mean.

And yet in a time when human vulnerability is exposed in such grand fashion, there are small stories of human strength.  I read about a man who was rescued while drifting in the ocean.  I watch a woman’s interview in which she recounts how she opened her the door to her house to evacuate to higher ground and was immediately washed away by the water, but grabbed onto a tree and didn’t let go even as she kept on sinking underwater.

These are stories not so much about hope–too many lives and livelihoods were lost for that–but about the power of life and the desire to live.  Against all odds, against all the forces, these people fought to survive and actually did.  There are countless other stories of fight for survival that we will never hear because those fights were lost.  Yet I know they exist.  And in that I find strength because there is something profoundly human about wanting to live and continue to experience this world.

What a natural disaster of historical proportions teaches me is that this world is a really complicated place.  That our advancements have allowed us to prepare for the worst, but there is very little we can do when the worst actually arrives.  That life is fragile, yet it is something we all want to hang on to, if only for the people who are left behind.  That living is a very simple thing, yet that task is an extraordinarily difficult one.  That a devastation brings about indescribable sadness, yet the story of survival brings joy.

People have expressed all sorts of kindness in asking about my family and my homeland, much the same way the world is offering to assist Japan.  Yet even in this gesture of human goodness there is complexity.  Most, if not all, of the people will move on with their lives.  CNN will, sometime this week, stop making the earthquake its headline news.

While some may view this cynically, I view this as a simple fact of life.  And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  Those who are most profoundly affected by the earthquake in Japan are those who have friends and family in Japan, those who have a personal connection.  I sincerely appreciate the thoughtfulness people have shown me, for if I ask them for help, many will do what they can.

But it is not their sadness.  One day, many will experience their version of the earthquake in Japan.  Much the same way my Chilean friend could personally connect to me today in the way I could not connect to him when their earthquake happened last year, I will now be able to connect with them.  To grow through pain: there’s something tragically great about something called life.

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2 Responses to “What the Earthquake Tells Me About Life”


  1. 1 Chris Ratto March 14, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    I pray for you and your family, if you need anything let me know. I have had enough experiences in life to know that it is not always good and it is not always bad. It usually seems to be bittersweet.
    I do not think God creates bad things. I think when bad things happen it is the devil doing them. I do think good happens from bad which is the proof God exists.

    • 2 joesas March 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm

      Thank you, Chris. The Lord is good.


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