Last Friday we woke up in the Laurels section of Pennsylvania in the tiny town of Confluence, PA. We had gone there to spend the weekend with dear friends. Before getting out of bed, we turned on the Today Show, (just as we do every morning) and learned that there had been an earthquake and tsunami in Northern Japan. Our son is studying this year at University of Tokyo. We were to say the least concerned. While he hadn't sent us an email he had posted on Facebook what his experience of the quake was in Tokyo. Being the twenty-one year old male that his is and at the time not realizing the extent of the damage north of him he didn't bother to email us until 12 hours later. Needless to say once we expressed our concern and he had heard from his friends that their parents were also concerned, he has stayed in contact since then.
After breakfast we decided to visit the Johnstown Flood National Park. On the way, we saw signs for the Flight 93 memorial and went to take a look. Right now phase one of the memorial construction is underway. The current viewing area is on top of a hill, an old strip mined surface in fact. As the day was cloudy and snowy, we could just make out the flag marking the crater from the crash. In an old corrugated and cold building on the site are displays describing the events and providing pictures. Probably most powerful for me were the notebooks containing pictures and short biographies of the 40 crew and passengers on the flight. These were ordinary people who had gotten up in the morning, proceeded with their daily routines, boarded a plane and expected to get off after an uneventful flight across the country.
The Johnstown Flood National Park visitor center tells another tale of people getting up, greeting neighbors, opening shops and looking forward to an ordinary day in a bustling city. The visitor center has an excellent movie that captures this sense of unknown foreboding as the day proceeds. Then in slow motion, black and white film the devastating flood is re-enacted and the power of water is apparent. This lake behind a dam where the rich from Pittsburgh came to recreate and relax became an unfeeling force for destruction. The death toll was 2209 and is the third highest civilian death toll behind the Galvestan Hurricane and 9/11. 2209 people didn't come home, thousands others lost everything and had no homes to return to.
Last Friday, the people of the Tohoku Region of Japan were well into their day when the 9.0 earthquake hit. Within all too short a time the quake was followed by the tsunami. As everyone who has seen the images knows, the waves were implacable and powerful. You were either on high enough ground or you weren't. And now hundreds of thousands are without homes, thousands are missing and thousands are dead.
We finished our day (having spoken with our son via email) thinking about the things each of these events have in common and the ways in which we take for granted that when we wake up, we will return at the end of the day to our homes, our families, our beds. How much of who we are depends on that routine.