Day 15

Why do I feel such immense amounts of anxiety when traumatic world events occur?  Japan is half way around the globe?  Why I am so deeply affected?

Friday Morning I was in Southern California.  I woke to bright sunshine, warm winds, palm trees and a docile beach. The seemingly peaceful space of what was going to be a day of rest and relaxation wasn’t, however, what I felt.  A sense of free-floating anxiety lay dormant within my belly.  I couldn’t name its source, but I was quite conscious of it.

After fixing my coffee and a few deep breaths in my daily meditation, I turned on the T.V.  The images were powerful, disruptive and painful.  The tsunami had struck the shores of Japan and people were dying en masse.

I can’t help but believe that the air shifts when so many last breaths occur.  The sheer numbers of people who died in such a short span of time…the immense amount of energy moved from within to without…the united expulsion of air, the finality of its sound as the remnants of it exit the lungs.

The body of a young boy pulled from rubble.
The body of a young boy pulled from the rubble.

I know I’m not alone.  The levels of anxiety I have witnessed in my children, friends and colleagues is palpable.  The helplessness we feel and the reminder of how small we are…the recognition for those things, priorities and people who are important to us comes crashing down around us as the ground beneath our usually balanced lives shakes and shifts.

I find myself needing to meditate more, breathe more deeply and slow myself down to accommodate the neuron overload after such a devastating and earth-changing event.

Not everyone is affected in this way.  I realize that. I’ve been a feeler since I was a child.  I can remember feeling the pain of those around me…an immense need to stand up for the bullied, scapegoated and “picked on” of my peers.  I would struggle with the apparent lack of fairness life brought to the starving children in Africa, visions of their bloated bellies and round wide eyes would haunt me.  I felt a tremendous desire to do something, even then, and yet felt helpless, frustrated and at times completely without power.

This ability to “feel” others pain, empathize, is deeply entrenched in the DNA of my children.  I see how these events shake them to their core…and I am keenly aware of how this sensitivity to pain is both a gift and a burden.  For years, I used a variety of methods to honor it and to not feel it…two ends of the same continuum, one empowered me the other numbed me out.  There’s probably a healthy balance in there somewhere.  I’d like to find it.

But in the meantime, today I will choose to feel the anxiety and see it as a gift.   I will tap into what power I do have to help the pained and sorrowed people of Japan.  I will pray, meditate, contribute, write, hold my children tight, and cry…cry from the depths and despair of my aching soul with no intention other than to just be in it…be in it with them…until we are in it no longer.

How do you cope with global tragedies such as this?

4 thoughts on “Day 15

  1. In response to Day 15, Wanderingthroughnothingness, Molly said, “Why do I feel such immense amounts of anxiety when traumatic world events occur? Japan is half way around the globe?”

    Well, in response to that, I think that answer can be summed up in a single word really, “Compassion.”
    My heart felt the shock of what so many people must have experienced in their last second of life. I feel for all of the injured and dead there, but also the loved ones left behind just the same. Mother Nature is in charge and there isn’t much we can do about that. Sometimes as humans we take so many things for granted from day to day, but life can be a real gamble from moment to moment.
    The way I deal with grief is by writing stories and/or poems. I would like to share one here if I may. I wrote this just moments after viewing the massive tsunami as it rolled across Japan’s landscape consuming everything in it’s path. The images I witnessed were video-taped from a helicopter, but at that moment were being broadcasted on LIVE TV. (Where’s the irony in that term)?

    Black & White

    Northeast of Japan, an earthquake took place…
    It caused a BIG wave, one that would race…
    A wall of water approached, so high and so wide…
    Toward good Japanese people, already outside…
    As blackouts, fire and tsunamis bear down…
    They had no idea soon they’d be, without town…
    The seconds count down as some folks DO escape…
    For the ones who weren’t sure, a mistake they would make…
    Some tried to outrun, the great wall of mud…
    That’s when all things turned black with the sound of a thud…
    Their next stop approaches a pretty bright light…
    As Black would then turn, into Heaven’s Bright White.

    Written by: Greg Ward – This poem is dedicated to all of the good people whose
    lives ended early after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific
    Ocean nearby Northeastern Japan at around 2:46pm on March 11, 2011, JST.

  2. To Greg… very nice. Thank you for the poem.

    How to cope with “tragedy”? As a firefighter I regularly see tragedy in an up-close and personal way. I recall rushing toward the plume of smoke that just a minute before had been Flight 5481 thinking, “This will not be pleasant.” So what to do? How to proceed in the face of some event that simply knocks the wind out of your sails?

    My father-in-law served 20 years in the Air Force as a fighter pilot (including 2 tours in Vietnam). He then went on to a 20-year career as an international corporate executive. Along the way he battled cancer. Now, at the ripe old age of 68, he has earned his teaching certificate and is teaching high school math.

    I tell you this to let you know he has faced a lot of crazy, tumultuous situations in his life. I asked him about courage one time, and he said when he felt his courage faltering he had a couple of avenues of recourse: 1. Prayer, and 2. Look outside of himself.

    By “looking outside himself” he meant that when he feels “negative” emotions creeping in (ie. fear, indecision, despair, etc) he focuses not on himself, but on those around him who NEED him to perform, to be, at his best. I think this has allowed him to go on with determination, and good humor, as a 68 year-old first year high-school teacher.

    I’ve used the same techniques to cope with tragedy. The victims of tragedy NEED those of us who are not directly affected to take their situation onboard, and then “cowboy up”, look outside ourselves, and move in a positive direction.

  3. I have been grappling with my lack of ability to respond to this question, and with my inability to watch even a minute of footage or read more than a couple of sentences of news coverage. I just simply cannot. As soon as I see the pictures or headlines, two things happen: a phantom smell of burning steel mixed with god knows what comes to my nose and my blood runs cold with sheer terror and/or panic.

    I don’t know what to do, how to help, who to pray to or reach out to. I just know that devastated isn’t word enough. I lived in New York City on September 11, 2001 and I couldn’t do anything. Except watch. Ten years have almost gone by and I can still smell it. And see it. And all of these people, these poor souls who are lost in Japan, who were lost in Katrina, in Indonesia, at Columbine and in the towers…my witnessing didn’t help.

    I think I have decided that the only thing I can do is live and not forget, and if I have time or money or energy to spare, find a place to give it. But to answer your question…I don’t know how to cope. But if I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

    1. Andi, I am with you on the difficulty in answering this question. Most of us DO cope of course, but when I try to really put my finger on the idea of coping it is difficult to describe!
      I also know what you mean about smell… they say that our sense of smell is the strongest link to our past experiences. Ever walk into an elementary school classroom? The smells immediately transport you through decades! Weird the way that works.

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