January 5th, 2005

I haven’t yet said anything here about the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia a couple of weeks ago. It has been much on my mind and weighs heavy on my heart, but I find I have no words for it. I struggle to understand the number of people whose lives have been lost and I cannot. I tell myself, imagine a football stadium full of people gone. Imagine everyone you know gone. Imagine every bright umbrella you’ve ever seen on a beach your whole life washed away and the people under it drowned. My brain is too small for so many dead, plus so many more lost and forlorn and grieving. As usual, I have seen no video footage and precious few pictures but I still find myself dazed by the enormity of it. I stand over the oven fixing dinner and crying. I stop in my driveway and sit in the car, unmoving, filled with a shock that is not mine rightfully but that I cannot seem to dispel. No one that I know directly has been affected by this and that in itself seems strange. How can so many people be gone and yet no one I know of is missing?

I know there are people who say that their God is punishing people, or that their God is testing people or that their God is protecting people despite this natural disaster. I am afraid to think what my God is doing. My God is doing something I cannot understand, something exactly like the tsunami itself, something which is but which is unfathomable. This is not an idea that troubles me, but it does cow me a bit. I’m not a hellfire and brimstone Christian, but neither am I a cute cuddly God Christian. I come from the Lewis school of thought, the “not a tame lion” understanding of God. I accept that all sorts of things are not to be grasped by the human mind and not to be grasped – more specifically – by my mind.

And yet, I keep trying to understand it, because that’s all I feel able to do. I cry and pray and try to understand it.

I commiserate most keenly, of course, with the people who have lost their children in these overwhelming events. In the aftermath of Simone’s death I was completely unable to care for myself. I couldn’t have fed myself, and I couldn’t concentrate or think about anything coherently. I can’t imagine having to face a chasm of grief so deep and still having to worry about food, shelter, water, disease. If it had required effort on my part to find a place to shelter I would not have had it, and I would have starved before being able to focus on something so mundane as food. At one point I read a BBC report which I can’t seem to locate now or I’d link it, about dozens of parents standing at the water’s edge, unwilling to believe that their children have died, saying that the sea would return them – living and whole – if only they waited long enough. I understand these thoughts as if they were my own. I know that the sadness cannot be any different for these people there now from how it was for me, and I hope that with all the aid for physical sustenance there are also hands to hold, shoulders to cry on, people with mercy and kindness to turn to. It is needed.

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