The afternoon of March 11, 2011 was pleasant enough. The weather was mild and I had spent some time at the gym. I was on my bicycle pedaling home when the world started to shake. It didn’t stop for a really long time, off and on for days and days that melted into weeks and months of aftershocks. (Details from my perspective are available on my earthquake blog or in magazine form at Shaken Up in Tokyo.) While all of that was quite frightening here in Tokyo, it was nothing compared to the unspeakable devastation caused not by the earthquake but by the following tsunami that hit the Tohoku region up north. Five years later, thousands are still living in temporary housing and only a tiny dent has been made in reconstruction.
In April of 2015, I was with a group of people a few days after the massive quake in Nepal. Some of them were bitching about how the Nepalese government hadn’t prepared enough for the crisis. I said softly, “You can’t prepare for a major earthquake.” One of them turned to me, smirking, and said, “Yes, you can.”
I turned away, stunned, feeling like I’d been kicked in the gut. I wanted to say, “Japan has some of the planet’s most sophisticated earthquake prediction technology. The greatest experts in the field have concluded definitively that it is just not possible to predict a quake. Mother Nature will not be pinned down that way. Since it is not possible to know where or when a quake may strike, or how big it will be or whether or not it will cause a tsunami, it is not possible to prepare for a major quake.”
Instead, my generous side told me he probably wasn’t really aware of what had happened here and couldn’t know what I and so many others had lived through. I do admit, though, that at the same time, my less generous side wanted to gently remove the frosted cocktail from his hand and pour it over his smug face.
What I learned from this experience:
1) Whenever possible, be kind. I know it’s not always possible; I’m no Dalai Lama. But you can’t know what kind of pain the person standing in front of you is carrying with them and you should never assume they aren’t. Dead baby jokes are funny until you tell one to someone who’s lost a child.
2) When you don’t know what you’re talking about, shut the fuck up.