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Tsunami

January 3rd, 2005

I won’t try to belittle what’s happened. I won’t try to force it into comprehensibility by calling it fantasy, the way I did after 9/11. When fantasy tries to do something like this it falls utterly flat, because there’s nobody in the world who can ever imagine it happening.

This is the kind of real that touches me. Maybe I have Luke to thank for that; maybe I only find myself able to imagine it now because he is there to interpret the other side of the world for me. If that is the case, I owe some people an apology–people I called callous when they said they couldn’t see what obligation we had to help people we didn’t hurt. I probably owe them an apology anyway. I must have misunderstood them, because really how could anyone think that way?

What can something so unbearably real do but put everything else in perspective? Sometimes I put my eye down close to the pavement and pretend I’m an ant. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine I’m a galaxy. These are illusions; they work, temporarily but unconvincingly, to blast back the collected dust of complacency and habit and remind me what the artwork looks like underneath. But neither these tricks nor anything like them has ever revealed to me the stature of humankind in such a clear and burning light. Compared to that light, 9/11’s effect seems one not of clarification but distortion. Terrorist attacks and wars highlight the worst in humankind, it’s true–and perhaps in a lucky few, the best. But they make us seem so important. Look what ridiculous horrors one of us can visit on another, or prevent another from visiting on us. Aren’t we big? The universe, the planets, the black holes swallowing planets, they’re all so vast and far away. What have they to do with us? Here, in our own field of vision, what’s more powerful than we are?

The earth has shown us the folly in that thinking. Let’s hope the dust doesn’t collect again too quickly.

But I’m moralizing. I’m trying to assign meaning from my safe seat far, far away where a twenty-foot wave seems so small, and I’ve the leisure to sit and imagine what it would be like if I dove headfirst into it the way I do the three-foot waves on the outer cape that only knock my head against the sand. And I said I wouldn’t.

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