The Japanese quake and tsunami have given some perspective to my life this week. Prior to the weekend, I had spent an inordinate amount of thought and worry on the various ailments and aches and pains I experience every day as a natural consequence of the aging process. There's the lingering, yet persistent sacroiliac twinge when I bend over to pick up the newspaper; there's the rough raw skin developing on the inside of my nostrils where my oxygen cannula fits each night; there's the sore feet bottoms and weakness in my legs which makes every walking episode a less-than-pleasant and increasingly deliberate act. And on and on.
Then, on Monday, to add insult to injury and further fuel my splendid little pity party, I awakened with a very sensitive upper molar; eating anything harder than yogurt or a hard boiled egg caused measurable distress. The thought of going to the dentist for an emergency visit made me cringe for a variety of reasons, but I finally took the big step, called and found myself in the chair, bib placed neatly over my old "wear it on Monday shirt." The doc's hastily reached conclusion was that I had a slight infection up among the three roots of my molar where the gum and bone tissue had, like my hairline, receded. A prescription for Amoxicillin and a cute little syringe to be used to irrigate the area with salt water were given to me as a guaranteed 4 day cure. The cure has mostly worked, but relief is far from total on this, Day Two.
I returned home to ponder this new deterioration in the state of my physical being, enter it into my list of physical complaints to ponder, and, as is my wont, checked out the news on the Internet. Front and center were videos of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami captured as they happened, caught in the act, as it were, by just plain Japanese folks who happened to have a video or phone camera handy. I was absolutely astounded, bowled over, ripped apart emotionally and psychically--I was reminded of what I felt like when I first saw the videos of 9/11 or Katrina.
I have not recovered from my first impressions of the Japanese tragedy-- the shelves in the grocery store shaking themselves empty of their contents, sheet rock falling from ceilings, the dark gray wall of water, many feet high. rolling over everything in its path, destroying little homes and massive buildings. I saw hundreds of cars being picked up and then deposited in a pile with a giant ship thrown right on top of it all. I saw villages wiped out and bodies coming ashore in the tide. And then there was the added fright of witnessing an atomic power plant explode and knowing that radioactive material does not lend itself to being swept up with brooms or moved with dozers. The whole tragedy, spread out there for me to view, with the situation continuing to self-destruct as I watched, was almost more than I could bear to watch.
Sitting at my desk I mulled over what I had just seen. I was reminded of the one experience I had had with a natural disaster when three small tornadoes joined forces in the little town of Cornwall, Connecticut the first day I was Headmaster of a school located there. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the event, but the little village lost dozens of hundred year old specimen trees, a stand of ancient white pines alleged to have been there in Colonial times, roofs, shingles, signs, and one cat. My school was severely damaged: a new addition to the dining hall, half completed, disappeared. The Italian tile roof of the main building was damaged beyone repair. Beautiful trees, some as large as 3 or 4 feet in diameter, were uprooted.
But, unlike Japan, the damage to Cornwall was limited in scope to the dwellings of a hundred or so residents, my school, the the little clapboard post office, and an abandoned private school. It took months to clean up the mess. Across the lane in front of my office were piles of wood chips and sawdust higher and longer than 15 Greyhound buses. All summer the air was filled with smoke reeking of pine pitch and resin as the locals tried to make the piles burn and disappear. The smell and the burning, their mere presence, was a continuous reminder of the event, out "little tragedy."
Watching the gravity and dimensions of the events in Japan, and seeing the suffering and displacement of people, the loss of many thousands of folks of all ages who never had a chance to run away (never mind live out the rest of their lives), made me sick with sadness and feelings of futility. Who would do the cleanup? Where would they start? Who had enough heavy equipment and fuel to accomplish the task--never mind the spunk, will, fortitude, skill required. Where would they put the broken buildings and cars and boats, not just a couple, but hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands and thousands. Who would feed the workers, the remaining residents, the medical personnel? "Fixing Japan" will require a super human effort and a massive infusion of money and determination and sweat. And it will have to be done while working under the very real threat of the consequences of a nuclear reactor meltdown, of radioactive contamination, and of lost electrical power formerly furnished by the damaged facilities.
I became increasingly uneasy as I sat in my comfortable desk chair in my heated apartment (with a beautiful view of the Rockies), smelling the dinner roast being prepared by one of my neighbors, watching the cars moving easily on Colorado Boulevard past gas stations and restaurants, thinking of my earlier encounter with the dentist--and then with the druggist who had Amoxicillin in stock ready to dispense-- and I was blown away by the contrast of my situation with that of a Japanese "Mark Johnson san" who stands, in 30 degree weather, in the rubble of Fukushima or Senda wondering if he or his people or his country has any future at all.
It was obviously not the right time for me to have or continue any sort of party, especially a pity party, so I gratefully picked up my Denver Post from the floor, put a little lube in my nose, plugged in the oxygen generator, and walked with my sore, bare feet across the soft Oriental carpet to my warm, soft bed.
I hope my dreams will allow me to sleep tonight; they didn't last night.
A welcome to readers
As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime: