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Facing the tidal waves with courage - not despair

By D. G. Martin
Posted Tuesday, January 4, 2005

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What if the recent earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean had happened 100 years earlier?

This time 100 years ago folks living in North Carolina probably still wouldn't have known what had happened. Reports would be coming across the telegraph wires. Maybe the new wireless radio links would have been useful. But these scattered reports would have been confused and conflicting. Only gradually, would people here have known that something horrible had happened.

The full extent of the horror is slow to reveal itself.

If it had happened 200 years ago, it would have been months before anyone in North Carolina heard anything about it. During their lifetimes they would not learn the full extent of the tragedy.

Even today, with our world-wide-webs of instant communication, the full extent of the horror is slow to reveal itself. There are isolated islands and areas so remote and so far out of touch that they may have disappeared and we don't yet know that they are missing.

But we know enough. North Carolinians' recent experiences with hurricanes and flooding give us a platform to sympathize with those along the shores of the Indian Ocean who lost their homes, families, and way of life.

Our storms have not been nearly as destructive, but we have learned that calamities of nature can suddenly wreck or completely destroy our normal lives. Our experiences may explain why North Carolinians have been generous in personal giving to the current relief efforts.

Still, our lives go along as before. It would be hard to see any outward change in the way we live at home and at work. We are not making any specific plans to take into account the possibility that a severe earthquake or a "tidal wave" could strike us.

But there is in some of us an undercurrent of worry, isn't there? It is based on our knowing that the villages that were destroyed by the tsunami had lived without change for many years. The people there lived day-to-day, just as we do, without any expectation of such a calamity until the moment they saw the cascade of water washing their lives away.

The undercurrent of uneasiness and worry that some of us now feel may be eroding the underpinnings of our confidence that things will be forever the same. It may be challenging our commitment to work hard to make things better for our community, our country, and our world.

We wonder if we are like the citizens of Pompeii in 79 AD during the days before Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried them under tons of volcanic lava and ash. (Or like the 200,000 people who would be killed should there be a major eruption to Vesuvius today-an event experts say is likely to occur before the end of the century.)

Or like the workers in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Or the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe in the early 1930's.

Or the wealthy Romans who thought their strong armies would insure that their dominance would last forever.

We ask ourselves if there can be better warning systems for natural destructive events like earthquakes and tidal waves. Certainly, modern weather monitoring systems and governmental advance planning has minimized the tragedies associated with the hurricanes that have battered our state.

But all the planning in the world can't protect us from some natural destructive events. Even if there had been a monitoring system in the Indian Ocean to give early warning of the advancing wave of water, it would not have prevented the great loss of life in Indonesia near the center of earthquake. Nor could the warning have prevented the damage to the buildings, homes, roads, wells, sewers, and service lines along the coasts of India and Sri Lanka, even if there had been time to organize an evacuation.

Lost in the news about the tsunami was a report of a 1300-foot long asteroid that could strike the earth in the year 2029. Scientists say the chance of a collision is "only" about one in 300. But if it should hit, they say, it would be "quite serious."

This asteroid is another reminder that some unforeseen event could shatter all we have worked for and come to expect.

How then do we respond to these uncertainties?

We might turn to the wisdom of this prayer, "Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

We might not be able to stop the tidal waves, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, or asteroid collisions. But there are many threats to our "good life" and a better world that we can overcome if we face up to them.

God grant us the wisdom to identify those opportunities and the courage to go to work on them.


D.G. Martin is the author of "Interstate Eateries" a handbook of home cooking places near North Carolina's interstate highways-available through Our State Magazine (800-948-1409 or He is the host of UNC-TV's North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. This week's (January 9) guest is Lynn York, author of "The Piano Teacher."

Programs coming up:

January 9: Lynn York, The Piano Teacher

January 16: John Dalton, Heaven Lake

January 23: Chuck Stone, Squizzy the Black Squirrel

January 30: Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities

February 6: Sheila Kay Adams, My Old True Love

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Facing the tidal waves with courage - not despair

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