By Brenda Black
It is mind-boggling to think how the true losses in Japan can ever be measured. As the scientist calculate the movement of the earth on its axis and search and rescue teams pile up bodies, how can they tell for certain where the earth is leaning and who has been swallowed by the sea, never to return? How will the government or city employees or business owners be able to estimate damages when every scrap of paper and every computer, office desk, chair and coffee maker lay heaped in mountains of rubbish mixed with houses, cars, light poles and transformers? The devastation is numbing and beyond numbering, but dozens of figures are being tossed around like the sea-seized Toyotas we watched wash from seaport towns across fertile Japanese plains.
A nation poised a world away has moved closer to our border, geophysicist Ross Stein at the United States Geological Survey told The New York Times. Reporter Liz Goodwin explains: “The world's fifth-largest, 8.9 magnitude quake was caused when the Pacific tectonic plate dove under the North American plate, which shifted Eastern Japan towards North America by about 13 feet. The quake also shifted the earth's axis by 6.5 inches, shortened the day by 1.6 microseconds, and sank Japan downward by about two feet.”
Thus the calculations begin and on the tail of seismic science, statisticians start crunching the numbers that estimate billion and trillion dollar figures on the economic impact, coupled with mounting death tole, including a city where probably half its population died. And this always disturbs me in the face of horrific disaster. Somehow loot and life are intermingled as if the value of yen or dollar is equal, or sadder yet, more significant than every single human being that vanished as quickly as you can rub two coins together.
I understand the overwhelming devastation to property and infrastructure. I get that events like these change industry and economies. But when I watch the nightmarish scenes, all I can think of is one man. His name Hiroaki. I haven't seen him or heard from him in 30 years, but this bright, friendly Japanese foreign exchange student was part of my high school graduating class. I remember how he described his country to me one day. I can recreate the classroom in my mind and I still see his ever-present grin. I am picturing the book he shared with me depicting his breathtaking and beautiful country. He loved his home and his family and was so thankful for my interest in what he held so dear. For some reason, his voice rings in my ear, “You must come visit someday. It is such a beautiful place!” So as all of the numbers are thrown about, I wonder about this one far removed friend, and every other one connected to him.
The world gets smaller every day. An earthquake just folded us 13 feet tighter. The internet made us feel like we were simultaneously facing the horror alongside strangers as if they were our brothers. Truth be told. They are. While you are trying to comprehend the headlines that blast us with billion dollar figures and more debate is given toward nuclear power than people, please take time to count the cost of every single human life. Then go hug your husband or wife. Tell your children you love them. Call your parents and check on your neighbors. Pray for the people of Japan and Haiti and Egypt and Iraq and Africa and America and every other war-torn, disease-riddled or weather-beaten place on the planet where people die and people survive. For we are not promised tomorrow and people matter all over the world.