Sendai Mag 8.9

Too familiar.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is an anime about an earthquake. It is more education than entertainment, I guess. It portrays a brother and sister who are caught away from home in a large earthquake.  The sister is in first year of middle school, her brother in third year of elementary school. She is accompanying him to a robot exhibition, but she is not happy about it. While waiting outside, she types on her cell phone: “The world should just break.” And then the earthquake hits.

Earthquakes and tsunamis are part of life in Japan, but usually they are small. A magnitude 8.0 quake in the bay outside Tokyo would be pretty devastating, and unfortunately not completely unlikely. So this is probably a thing that is on people’s minds off and on.

The animated TV series is simple and realistic. It shows that even when the damage is not total, it is just so widespread. Even though there are stretches of road that are OK, they are separated by broken ground, fallen bridges, wreckage and abandoned cars, so you still can’t get anywhere with car or motorbike.  And even when buildings are still standing, they may be so damaged that they collapse later. One of the main characters of the story dies as a result of this.  Other homes are fine, but then catch fire because of a gas leak in a neighboring home. Whole neighborhoods are lost to fire because water mains are broken and fire trucks cannot get around either.

Seeing the news today was eerily familiar. Of course, it was not Tokyo this time, although they got their share of swaying buildings. But then it was not magnitude 8.0 either.  Earthquakes are measured on a log-10 scale, so that 8.9 is not roughly ten percent stronger than 8.0, but closer to 10 TIMES stronger. (That would actually be 9.0, but you get the point.) If this had happened right under a city, it would have been second only to a nuclear attack in devastation. As it was, it happened in the ocean outside, so the greatest damage was wrought by the tsunami, the giant wave.

It must be strange, living with the knowledge that at some point, disaster will strike. Knowing approximately what form it will take, but not which day or year.  Japanese are not the only ones:  Major population centers in California are sure to meet a similar fate. And several volcanoes are ready to blow their top, obliterating the nearby cities.  There is also the small matter of the supervolcano under Yellowstone, which could devastate much of North America right away, and destroy most of earth’s food production for the following decade. I am sure there are other disasters waiting in the wings around the world.

And of course, in the end the most certain thing about life is that we are not getting out of it alive. When Jesus Christ heard about a collapsed building that had killed several people, he asked: “Do you think these were greater sinners than other people in Jerusalem?” I suppose there are a few causes of death that are for “greater sinners”, such as death by alcohol or by fat. Earthquakes are not quite that selective. And in the end, no matter how pious and clever and lucky we are, we’ll have to join those who have gone before us.

But I’m in no hurry. Of course, neither were those on the beaches of Sendai. Some people will look for a meaning in the deaths, but I think we should firstly and mostly look for the meaning in our lives while we still have them.

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