Often to bring comfort to ourselves and others, we use the expression, “This too shall pass.” Implicit in the thought is the idea that all material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary.
No one is even contemplating the notion of the impermanence of the after-effects of the horrible tragedy currently engulfing a significant portion of Japan today.
Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any worse, an even greater man-made disaster, containing nuclear plants, which have been seeping radioactive gases since the disaster, is looming.
Since man first found out how to split the atom, giving birth to the atom bomb, life as we know it on this planet would never be the same. Every day we live with the thought of our power to create mayhem and destruction on a scale unimaginable to the human psyche.
In some cruel twist of irony, the people of Japan are once again having to cope with atomic radiation which threatens to do untold harm to its people. The minute version of the device consumed hundreds of thousands of souls, some 66 years ago during World War II. It left such horrific scenes which still haunt those who witnessed the horror.
This time, however, the Japanese are receiving an outpouring of sympathy and support of every kind from more than 90 nations willing to help them stop the present threat, pick up the pieces and rebuild.
The disaster has led many to introspection on what exactly we have done and are doing to the planet and by extension ourselves. We have conquered the last frontier space; we have created life in a test tube and we have the ability to clone and yet the power to harness the destructive tendencies of nature have escaped us.
Hurricanes routinely destroy life and property. Cyclones do the same thing. But when the globe we call earth decides to shift its plates, no force can stop the ensuing destruction. At least the two former give ample warning which allow a certain amount of preparation to take place, but when the earth begins to rock rumble and crack, it does so unannounced with disastrous consequences.
Within days of the now calibrated 9.0 magnitude quake, geologists have reported that its force was so great it caused the earth’s axis to tilt some 25 cm and the shoreline of a Japanese island to shift some 8 feet.
More profound, however, is scientists are reporting that the power of the quake caused the earth to rotate faster, thus shortening the 24 -hour day. Even more frightening is the data, which showed that the quakes in Chile last year shortened the day as well as the one in Indonesia in 2004.
If nothing else this latter bit of information puts all life into perspective. We spend untold millions, and in some cases, billions to build not knowing whether an earthquake will trigger a tsunami which will drag it all out to sea in a few seconds. The Pacific Ocean swept all in its path six miles inland last Friday. Boats, planes houses, trains.
It gives new meaning to “there for the grace of God go I.” All our theories and models for development can come to naught in the proverbial twinkling of an eye. It therefore behooves us to take cognizance of the fact that development is not about the temporal; it’s about leaving room for the spiritual. It is the development of the spiritual, which impels man to reach out to man in times of disaster.
At last count, 91 nations are on the ground helping Japan get back on its feet. We tend to judge America by Hollywood, Washington and Wall Street, but that nation is made up of ordinary, good, decent and generous people who have been able to put behind them the history of Pearl Harbour and come to the aid of an erstwhile enemy.
The lesson here is that nations ought not only to build edifices and structures which nature can take away but seek to inculcate the virtues of good character, integrity, citizenship and brotherhood in its people – something that no power can erase.
The writer of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, said it most succinctly,” Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”