I had intended to use this space for my annual tongue-in-cheek review of the Farmer’s Almanac. I’ll get to that later.
I’m not feeling particularly whimsical. I spent much of the past week watching a horror I could never imagine. Perhaps the world has endured worse natural disasters than the tsunami that devastated coastlines from Sumatra to Thailand to Sri Lanka and all the way over to Somalia on the East African Coast, but in all the reading I’ve ever done, all the news reports I’ve listened to or watched, I’ve never heard of one that bad. At last count, as many as 155,000 people were dead and experts expect disease, malnutrition and un-treated injuries to push that total nearer 200,000.
The first pictures televised, with waves crashing over four-story buildings, inspired awe at the power of nature. And then they showed the aftermath: people, holding onto their children as best they could, clinging to anything that offered some hope of salvation.
I watched in absolute horror a small group of people cling to a rapidly disintegrating building as torrential waters, as if guided by malicious intent, tried to pluck them from safety. And, by ones and twos, they lost their grips and disappeared into the maelstrom.
I heard stories of parents having to choose which child to hold onto and which to give up to the flood. I can’t imagine making that decision, knowing that I couldn’t keep more than one child afloat and that if I didn’t turn one loose all would die. No one should ever face that choice.
In one country, more than 40 percent of the dead are children. That’s almost half a generation lost.
I watched as family members desperately searched for loved ones and as desperately mourned when they discovered them among the dead. I can’t begin to imagine the grief.
A doctor expressed intense regret and frustration that lack of transportation prevented him from getting to areas where severely injured people desperately needed his skills. And he had to wait knowing that delay meant more death.
Several groups on small islands had to fend off crocodiles washed up with the waves. I heard stories of remarkable survival, a family floating on the tide in their car until they hit dry ground, a modern day ark perched finally on a convenient Ararat.
A fisherman rode the biggest wave a mile or more inland, somehow avoiding trees, buildings and other obstacles that would have smashed him. And people stopped to help each other, pulling them out of the raging waters, helping them find shelter, food and medical attention. Human kindness finds ways to express itself even in the worst of tragedies.
When the water finally receded, debris – including thousands of corpses – littered the streets; buildings were in shambles; landscapes devoid of vegetation.
I’m not a particularly generous person, but I was moved to donate something to help relieve what must be the greatest suffering I have ever seen. My wife suggested we double my effort. “We can afford it,” she said.
I was glad that the United States added a zero to the initial $35 million pledge of support and I hope they add more. We can afford it. These unfortunate people, many of whom had very little to begin with, will never recover from this disaster. How could they? But they will get on with life. And those of us fortunate enough to have plenty should help all we can.
Some were shown picking through the rubble, all that was left of their homes, searching for familiar items, mementos, perhaps family heirlooms. And many said they would start over as soon as they could.
“This is home,” one man said. “What else can we do?”