Monday, March 14, 2011

What If I Lost Everything?

What would I do if everything I had was washed away in minutes?  If everything around me was swept away by a horrifying wall of water? If I were lucky enough to escape, what would life be like from that moment?

While seeing the televised images of the growing disaster in Japan, it was nearly impossible to imagine the answers to these questions.  To help me understand, I contemplated walking out of my house and wandering into an unfamiliar deserted field somewhere, far from home with no way to ever return.  Even something so simple raised feelings of panic and helplessness.

I would have nothing but the clothes I was wearing. 

Although I was alive, searching and surviving would occupy my very being for an unknown period of time.  After many hours of walking and becoming tired, I'd realize that I had no home to return to for safety or rest. The higher pleasures of life would for a time become meaningless.

When I felt hungry, I knew that I had no refrigerator or cupboard from which to grab food or drink, like I can do now without even thinking about it.  If I needed to buy something at the store, or go to a favorite spot in town, I had no means to get there except my own legs, since my car would have been washed away and lost.

And if I could get to a favorite shop, or a newsstand, or even a place with a chair to sit in, these would be gone too. 

Unless I found a place that escaped damage, or a kind person who had enough to give, I might weaken as pangs of hunger and thirst would loom.  I would be cold, and perhaps wet from trying to escape the dangerous waters.  I would feel uncomfortable inside clothing that I would have to wear constantly without laundering maybe for days, and have nothing clean and dry to change into. I would not have a razor, or a toothbrush

Once I found that undamaged place, hundreds of unfortunate souls like me would be lined up waiting for the same things I needed: water, food, dry clothing, kind words.

If I had the need to eliminate, I might find no buildings with restroom facilities, nor working plumbing.  I would have to make the best of it, unaccustomed as I am to performing bodily functions or personal hygiene out in the elements.  

Without the company of people I knew, or kind strangers who were strong enough to provide support, there would be no one to comfort me through the awful uncertainty about the fate of those I loved.  I would be alone to contemplate the deaths of friends and family.  Animals, too, would be lost, never understanding what was happening around them.

Maybe worse than the physical discomfort would be the emotional weight, the panic,  hope giving way to mourning.

All that would help me survive in this impossible situation would be the reflexive instinct to assist others (maybe those more helpless than I if that were possible).  In periods of sudden disaster, I sometimes find sources of strength I didn't realize were there, and I snap to without thinking. Only later, overcome with sheer exhaustion, are my defenses broken, and I am able to confront the personal losses, and the idea that everything by which I  had defined my life would be gone.

The home that was my life's center would disappear, without sentimental departure.  Photos, mementos, gadgets, things of personal value, gone. 

My books would be forever lost.  No laptop computer. No blogging.  No movies to watch, and review, and discuss tirelessly.  Would I miss them? Would something that fulfills a more abstract need be important in such a situation?  Maybe my capacity to remember, to replay the movies and books in my head, and derive some pleasure from their memory, would give me the strength that need to assist the more unfortunate.

All I know, thinking about it now from within the warmth of my little house, surrounded by the things that make me comfortable, and in front of the glow from my computer screen, is that if I ever found myself in this situation, I would hope that people of compassion would help me back on my feet, providing me with the basics that I was unable to provide for myself.

What is important?  Is life merely a room full of objects it took me a lifetime to gather and save?  If I am privileged to exist in a state of higher functioning, can my enjoyment and appreciation of things like movies and books, art and music, writing and thinking, serve something better as well?

Most of us want to do something to help.  I found one way to provide a small donation (there are many others).  Even $10 can help when multiplied by thousands.

I found a web site ( that offers creative ways to lend support and aid to those in Japan who need it urgently:

The American Red Cross has once again launched a texting campaign to raise money for relief efforts in the Pacific region. Last year, the Red Cross was able to raise over $20 million for Haiti relief through simple text donations.
If you would like to donate to the American Red Cross for Japan Earthquake Relief, just text REDCROSS to 90999. Each text will provide $10 towards the Red Cross’s humanitarian efforts.

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