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Finding the world in disasters

February 27, 2010

I’m not sure if I’m just hearing news more these days than I used to, but it seems like there are an awful lot of disasters going on around the world. Earthquake, tsunamis, freak blizzards, and other natural disasters paired with plane crashes, bombings, kidnappings, and other human-caused disasters.

One thing I’ve discovered is I seem to be quite good at just-missing such disasters. My junior year of high school I was to go with a special class to spend two weeks living in Spain. Just weeks before we were to leave, the Atocha train station bombing happened in Madrid, leaving the fate of our trip up in the air (we did end up going).

In 2007, during my semester in Italy, my friend and I flew to Sicily for a few days. The day we flew out (and at almost the exact time as well), Etna erupted. That same semester, just a week or two after we took a big ship to Greece and cruised the islands, a boat full of tourists sunk in the same area.

In 2008, after my semester in Thailand, two disasters happened in places I very well could have been if I had gone along with my original plan (two months traveling in SEA and China) instead of changing my plans last minute to spend the second month in New Zealand instead. Those were the cyclones hitting Myanmar and northern Thailand and the earthquake in Chengdu (where I very likely would have been right at that time, and where one of my friends actually was at the time). I also missed by one day a train bombing in southern Thailand when I was traveling between there and Malaysia (although that is a much more common thing in that region).

And now it seems South America is experiencing disasters, which I can only imagine are coinciding very closely with people doing backpacking trips north to south right now, and which could have very easily been a route and timing I would have done if other things had been different in my life. First there were the floods in Cusco and Machu Picchu, and now there is the massive earthquake in central Chile, and in turn the tsunami warnings all over the place.

Once you have any kind of ties to a place, these disasters resonate with you all the more. You know people that live nearby, maybe even good friends. You know the state of the people that live there, how equipped or unequipped they are to deal with such problems. And you know how lucky you are, as well as how close you were — that at any time it could be you. These disasters become things you will never forget, even if all traces of their destruction are wiped away. The world is constantly being created, destroyed and recreated. It’s constantly changing, for better and for worse.

I’m sure it always has been that way, but the depth of our media today, with websites and television stations reporting and updating us 24/7, really makes it obvious. Whether you think the media is good or bad, one can’t argue that it opens our eyes. The world is a big place, there are always more disasters happening, but the beauty begins to show in the ever-growing connections we form with each place and each people, the care we show, the feelings we have, and the sense of community we cultivate. We share this planet and all that happens while we’re on it, and one can only hope that as we grow closer together in these strange ways, we can all have a sense that we won’t be alone when we reach our own time of greatest need.

Keep the world in your thoughts, and remember we can all do something to help. Just taking the time to care is a start. Embrace your life and the people and the world around you. In the end it’s all intertwined.

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