Friday, March 25, 2011

Perspective on a storm

3/23/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Perspective on a storm

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then photos of the Mar. 11 earthquake-triggered tsunamis that swept along the shores of Northern Japan have written books. The images of houses, cars, boats, collapsed roads and entire villages being smashed into smithereens are already archived. But it is the faces and stories of the survivors that will forever be etched on our hearts.

The numbers of dead and missing are mind-boggling. As of this writing, the death toll is approaching 10,000 people and continues to rise. To put your mind around that figure, imagine that the majority of residents in Cottage Grove suddenly disappeared in a storm. Entire families and neighborhoods washed away, buried in debris, burned up or pulverized by the elements.

As a survivor, what would you do? Where would you go? How would you begin again? The plight of Japan and those questions came to mind during the brief storm that swept through our area on March 13.

I was standing outside watching the gathering storm clouds when it began to rain. Suddenly the wind picked up and I ran into the house just as shingles began blowing off the roof. Our dogs were running in circles as branches broke off the trees. Decorations were torn off the walls of the house; yard art and furniture were tossed into the fields.

The lights flickered a couple of times and then went out completely. The phone gave one last gasping ring as the wind intensified. We gathered up the animals, light a fire in the stove and battened down the hatches to wait out the storm. It raged about 30 min. and then, except for the pouring rain, it was eerily silent.

Outside it looked like a mini-hurricane had gone through the property.

We needed a roofer to replace the shingles and a tree trimmer to dislodge the branches that are broken off and hanging every which way in the trees. The rest of the debris we can take care of.

Our neighbors were also hard hit. Suddenly we heard the buzz of chain saws and the hum of generators. Two trees had fallen on a house on the road behind us. Another neighbor had their driveway blocked by fallen trees. Across the street in the park, many trees were upended or the tops ripped off. One neighbor took his chain saw and cleared trees off Reservoir Rd. to let traffic get through.

There was a time when we would have had a little pity party after one of these storms. Not this time. In perspective to Japan’s plight, this is barely a blip on the horizon.

As night fell, we stoked the fire, set out our lanterns and drove into town for dinner. The Jeep lurched over fallen logs and we joined hundreds of people out on the town because they didn’t have electricity either. Surprisingly, no one complained.

Over and over again we heard, “It could be so much worse. Think of those poor people in Japan.” Compassion ruled.

The next morning we rolled out of bed to the familiar reality of no electricity. We used bottled water for brushing teeth and washing faces. In the refrigerator milk for our cereal was quickly warming up so Chuck plugged it and the freezer into the RV generator.

After that, I looked around and thought, “Now what do I do?” All forward motion stops in the modern house when electricity is down. Monday’s laundry could neither be washed, dried nor ironed. The house phone didn’t work and the battery on my cell phone needed to be charged. I could sweep the floors but not vacuum. And I couldn’t even pay bills because I do that online!

Just about 24 hours after the lights went off, they came back on. (Thank you, EPUD!) I breathed a sigh of relief as the stress level in my shoulders came down. Suddenly we were blanketed with warmth and security. Life was good.

The inconvenience of this tiny little storm gave me great empathy for the people of Japan (or any country) who would love to have to suffer my problems. Nearly a half million people are homeless with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no productive future in sight. They face months of survival at the most basic level: food, water, shelter, electricity and yes, helplessness.

The Japanese are a strong people but they are mortal just like us. Entire families were separated in the tsunami’s destruction. Daily they search for their loved ones. They are living a physical, mental and emotional nightmare compounded by nuclear fallout uncertainty.

One lady said she thought perhaps it would have been better if she had died. But she did not and life goes on.

The following piece of advice and personal tsunami experience was posted on a website and touched my heart — I hope it touches yours and brings perspective to your life.

“I live in Fukushima Prefecture about 100km from the coast … there is no gas for cars so in the event of evacuation, I'm not sure what would happen. There is a feeling of dread hanging like a pall over everyone. But we keep going. And every time I see some friends, hug my family, drink a glass of water, I am so much more thankful than I was 6 days ago. If you are wondering what you can do right now, here is one idea: don't take anything for granted. Appreciate what you have. Taste that water. Hug your family. Let stupid little things go.” Troy on the CTV News website, Montreal

P.S. Texting is an easy way to help Japan via a nonprofit agency:
American Red Cross: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10
International Medical Corps: Text MED to 80888 to donate $10
Save the Children: Text JAPAN or TSUNAMI to 20222 to donate $10
Salvation Army: Text JAPAN or QUAKE to 80888 to donate $10
World Vision: Text 4JAPAN or 4TSUNAMI to 20222 to donate $10

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family,
and other matters of the heart. 
Read her weekly columns in the Oregon Cottage Grove Sentinel

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