Across the wide and salty ocean from California, past lush tropical islands and craggy rocks, past whales surfacing to blow water toward the sky, past dolphin pods arching and leaping, past underwater schools of colorful fish, past reefs of coral, the people on the island of Japan laughed and ate and tucked their children into bed on Thursday night.
They washed their dishes and perhaps watched the sun set across their island in that haze of innocence which gathers around all of us when we don’t know what the next morning shall bring. When our lives are still simple and golden, and we perhaps haven’t appreciated and acknowledged the beauty of simple sharing, simple laughter, the simple way our families and friends and neighbors weave the fabric of living joy.
Hold on to your memories of innocent pleasures, for after you’ve eaten lunch and perhaps noticed the bird swoop outside your window– the earth shook in its core, and shook, and shook, and shook some more. With a magnitude of 8.9 it heaved up solid rock and swallowed trees and buildings and animals and gardens. The earth rose from its underworld sleeping lava dreams and desolated coffee shops, schools, plans, ideas, hearts and windows.
Deep underwater Triton raised his spear as the earth tilted and heaved, and sea water rose and gathered and rushed toward the earthquake’s trembling voice. And then the wave roared ashore, the tsunami-wave, the wave of death. It crashed, it sucked, it heaved, it spit out bridges and cars and trucks. It sped toward the heart of the island, but only lapped at the vulnerable shores as it attempted to drown everything in its foaming mouth.
We on distant shores, across the wide ocean, still build our sand castles and smile for cameras and wander along foggy beaches. We try to imagine children ripped from the arms of loving mothers. We try to imagine grandmothers swept to sea. We try to imagine strong fathers attempting to keep us safe. We see ourselves clinging to trees, to buildings, to floating debris.
We weep salty tears for the way life can change in an instant. The way our loved ones can be standing beside us, laughing, and suddenly gone. Gone, gone, gone. Out to sea, into the earth, away from us.
We pray for the people of Japan. We pray for people who are just like us. People who had plans on Friday. People who thought it would be another ordinary day. A work day, a school day, a shopping day, a family day.
If we learn anything from the heart-wrenching pain of disasters it should be this: hold your children tighter tonight as you hug them. Keep your eyes alert for beauty as it presents itself during this most ordinary day. Train your heart to remain soft, open, present with whatever simple gifts arise. Life is short and precious, and there is a human tendency to forget this, to walk against this earth half-asleep, half-dreaming, half-forgetting. Worrying and fretting about small things, inconsequential things, distractions which prevent us from enjoying that which nourishes us, sustains us, sets us free.
Our work as humans is not to labor only for cash, the legal tender. It is to stay aware, awake, present with that which is so easy to dismiss. The bliss which already surrounds us in the sound of seagulls calling, waves lapping against the shore, children playing, sand castles of life which we build, laughing, laughing, rarely realizing when the next wave will claim and lay asunder.
Heaven exists here, now, in eyes which allow the sacred its shining, its fog, its mist, its ever-broken fullness.