28 April, 2015


friday night i chatted with my parents about the details: pick up good face sunscreen; make sure we have sock liners; should my mom bring her old gore-tex jacket or try to get a cheap but decent knock-off there. we signed off and i went my merry way, visiting with crusty juggler and d in calgary - all tinkling glasses of prosecco and vinho verde, banter, laughter: the usual, then off to bed.

satuday morning, i was woken too early by the phone. my dad's voice was serious when he told me our trip to nepal (13th of may…coming right up) would not take place. i assumed immediately that my grandma's declining health was the reason. no, my dad told me, kathmandu has been levelled by a huge earthquake; base camp was flattened by an avalanche. still groggy, my first assumption was that this was a joke. i actually laughed. took me a while to filter the fact that my dad isn't the type to call me early in the morning to play a prank, prankster though he may be. he told me to check the news, and as d got up to make coffee, we opened up his laptop and saw the headlines.

my continued reluctance to go made the news feel like my fault in some bizarre way - no, of course, in my mind i know i had nothing to do with it, but there was (and remains) a tiny part of me that feels to blame for this, like i didn't want to go so very much that the strength of my will caused the very earth to quake. i know, megalomaniacal AND silly. but still.

disasters tend to feel painful in a perfunctory and vaguely theoretical way. we're not wired* to truly care for all of humanity; if we were, we would surely implode from the sheer pain of empathy. still, my typical reaction is rarely as visceral as i would wish it to be. this, however, hit me hard, because two weeks from now i would have been there and as such, the place was more real to me than some random cataclysmically afflicted corner of our globe. nepal, by virtue of the ticket i had purchased, the pile of clothes awaiting packing, the prescriptions for anti-altitude sickness pills i had obtained, had gained a reality that made this one hurt.

my dad and my cousin have already been there several times, each time falling in love anew with the warmth of the people as much as the beauty of the landscape. who knows if they will go again…and if they do (and if i do), the monuments that have stood for many long years are standing there no more. at any rate, it's a country of great beauty, but also great poverty. this won't be easy on them, and with the monsoon season a month away, they're racing against time to make sure people have shelter.

medecins sans frontieres, oxfam, red cross - these and others are doing their best to help. please donate.

*reading a book right now, "sapiens," that is opening my eyes to a whole lot of interesting about our species. simply written for the non-entirely-scientifically minded, but not at all simplistic. broad strokes of what sometimes could or should be obvious, but is often forgotten. highly recommended.


Zhoen said...

A connection, however tenuous, and we feel guilt and grief. Reach out to those folks, may make you feel better, certainly will help them.

Tom said...

I think you put your finger on a difficult point when you refer to our inability to care, in depth, about people caught up in disasters. As you say, if we could we would implode because the burden of grief would be too heavy to bear. I think it is better to accept that, than to indulge in mock sympathy which only panders to our ego, and not to the other's need.

Someone once told me that when a person is drowning in a ditch, there is no value in getting down and drowning alongside them. Better by far it is to offer practical help, to assist in carrying the burdens of their lives until they can resume their lives. For me, that is genuine love and compassion.

As for Nepal and its mounting death toll, I feel shocked into numbness. Listening to some of the stories coming out of the area, that seems to reflect the prevalent feelings of survivors. Thank goodness for the human ability to continue to operate on autopilot.