As I write this, my morning is bleeding away. Afternoon is nigh and I still need to work.
I worked late last evening, came home, was relaxing and enjoying my first hour to myself, then suddenly my mood plummeted. I describe it as a “disturbance in the Force” — the unsettling knowledge that something has just gone horribly awry somewhere. Then the news flowed: A tsunami had already begun to land in Japan. A big one.
Only twice before have I had that feeling of a shift in “the Force.” The first was at 4:15 AM on August 6th, 1999. I was already awake when my cousin came in 20 minutes later to say my mother had died at 4:13, that the hospital had just called.
The other was at 5:55 on September 11, 2001. Only, I didn’t have cable at the time and didn’t know what had happened. The world was freakishly quiet and unsettling. Later, I arrived at work to the news, and it made sense then.
I’m not new-agey, I don’t really believe in an afterlife. I shouldn’t say I don’t believe in it, either. I don’t know what I know, or believe, because of these “Force” experiences, and a couple other reasons.
But, last night, there it was again. Boom. Pit of the stomach, bang.
I couldn’t turn the television off. My reasoning is simple — it’s easy to turn it off, walk away, but when it’s something they’re living through, I’m not watching it to be sensationalist — I’m watching it because I feel I owe it to them to be as present as I can be in their moment. That’s the human condition we all need to share. We have the power to experience — if only peripherally — our fellow man’s struggles; it’s our humanitarian obligation to be aware of them.
Thus, I was up till nearly 3am.
A friend phoned me in a panic at midnight, she being without cable or computer — like I had been in 2001 — and she had seen my update status on Facebook. “I need you to tell me what’s going on in Japan,” she said, trying to quell the understandable fear in her voice. “My brother lives there, and I don’t know the name of his town.”
Her phone call shook me, because the ripple effects of a tragedy like this has to be measured on so many levels — human, structural, financial, global.
But then it comes down to the simplest things we know — that guy who’s a friend of that woman you went to school with, he was a teacher there, they’re looking for him. Still. Washed away, they say.
Because, soon, we’ll hear stories like that.
Not today. Not yet. The scope isn’t even apparent. In three or four hours, it’ll be dawn in the land of the Rising Sun. And then we will know. From massive catastrophe, human stories will emerge. Who was taken, who was not.
But, in the end, what we’ll remember most about the fateful Sendai quake of March 11th will be images and numbers.
Today I’m cognizant of one thing… however bad this quake is, it could have been so much more horrific.
Had the quake happened under Japan? The destruction would’ve been far greater. Had the epicentre been deeper, and not remarkably shallow? Ditto. Had the tsunami first landed with full force further south? Ditto. Had the engineering not been Japan’s great obsession for decades, always thinking proactively about the future, rather than penny-pinching? Ditto.
And that will unfold for weeks, months, even years. But if any country knows how to rebuild and survive, we’ve already seen that it is Japan.
Land of the Rising Sun, indeed.
Today, you have one thing you need to do.
You need to donate money.
If every North American donated only $5, we’d raise close to $2 billion for relief efforts. So, do that. Donate $5. If you’re American, texting REDCROSS to 90999 will automatically donate $10 to relief efforts via adding $10 to your cell bill. If you’re Canadian, the donation is $5, and you donate that specifically to Japan relief efforts by the Red Cross in texting ASIA to 30333.
Why should you donate to Red Cross? Because cholera, dysentery, search-and-rescue efforts, these all need IMMEDIATE on-the-ground resources — and the Red Cross is best positioned for First Response efforts.
Forget about clothes and belongings — it will take weeks to get that stuff to them, and it costs more to ship than giving donations and letting them locally source the needed supplies.
Today, donate money. Anything. Don’t wait. Every penny you donate TODAY is a penny the Red Cross knows it can allocate TODAY. More is more, and sooner is best.
Here in Vancouver, Canada, we feel especially empathetic to Japan. They’re a Pacific Rim sister nation, they’re a trading partner, they’re a cultural influence on the streets of Vancouver, and where many of our landed immigrants hail from. Today, we watch with bated breath and broken hearts as we see the destruction unfold.