July 23, 2011

Right where we are, right now

I stopped by Burger King for lunch on Friday: quick, cheap, and easy. Plus, I could get a milkshake and give my aching tooth some brief, but much needed relief. As I sat down with my meal, I scanned the afternoon's headlines.

I had been aware of the government building car bombing in Norway, as I had seen the headline in passing on Gawker right before I left for lunch. I headed to Fark as I often do when major world crises occur; their membership is so large that often I can find one or two Fark users who will post about what's happening from the scene right in the story comments.

Aout 250 comments in, I read a copy of an AP bulletin that someone had begun gunning down people at an island summer camp not too far from Oslo. As I read more comments, details were just beginning to be leaked to the public about the shooting. My mouth agape, a french fry in one hand, I stopped eating and began to devour instead what info I could find on the web on my phone.


When I first read the monologue "Under the Burkha" from The Vagina Monologues and then began to learn about the treatment of women under Taliban rule, I very distinctly remember having this thought:

"I'm so glad I was born in America."


When September 11th happened, I remember heading to my residence hall lounge where my fellow RAs and residents were gathered, watching the replay of the Towers falling. I headed up to my room and immediately thought of my friend Marissa, studying at NYU at the time. I sent her a frantic IM over AIM:

"Are you okay??"

She responded about 20 minutes later, describing how she had seen the whole thing from her apartment window as she was getting ready to go to class.

"There are rescue helicopters and jet planes flying around," she wrote. "When they fly by, people just crouch down on the sidewalk and start crying. They think it's another attack."

"Jesus," I wrote back. "I'm glad you're okay."

"Me too," she said. "I'm glad you're not here - it's crazy."


When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan this March, I was immediately grateful my family were all safe and sound. I watched the news in the following days, transfixed by the surreal images of countrysides swallowed up in a matter of seconds by the raging water. Larry and I had NHK running pretty much continuously on our computers and TV.

Even though we only spent just 2 weeks there 2 years ago, Larry and I felt such a deep connection to the land and its people. (We're not kidding when we say we want to retire there.) I even proposed the idea of flying over to Japan in those first few days after the disaster, to offer some kind of help. After seriously talking it through we realized that with little command of the language and the inability to take the time off from work, it just wouldn't be feasible.

Still, for as much as I felt immediately drawn to help the people of Japan in the immediate recovery, I still  thought:

"I'm glad I wasn't there when this happened."


I have written before about chance:

Because you never know when things can change in a moment, how a life can be hinged upon a single word: ...If.

In that post, I wrote about a former colleague of mine, Michelle Humanick (of Blessed Memory), who was killed in a severe thunderstorm a year ago this week in College Park, Maryland, less than a mile from where we used to live. She had been driving home and got off the highway to avoid the violent storm when a tree fell over, struck her car, and killed her instantly.

Michelle and I weren't close friends; we were professional colleagues at best. But her death has always stuck with me in its haunting illustration of chance.

Or more specifically, of the idea of right place, wrong time (or wrong place, right time, depending on how you look at it).


I have always been affected by tragedies and disasters that happen in places familiar to me. Especially when it came to Japan, and even with Michelle's death on a stretch of road I had driven many times before. There is an imprint of my experience there and it leaves a mark on the memory of that place to know that something tragic happened there.

And yet, I know nothing about Norway. In fact, the most I know about this part of the world is through Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy, and even then, the books are set in Sweden. Still the two countries are neighbors. As I've read the news reports and the descriptions of Oslo and Utoya, it felt familiar if only the way the cities were described; they reminded me of the stark yet otherwise peaceful cityscapes Larsson described in his books.

I have never been to Norway, but with the pictures I had seen on the news and Larsson's imagery of Stockholm and Hedeby Island it was easy to imagine in my mind's eye this Scandinavian city street or an island summer camp.


I didn't learn until almost 3pm today that 92 people had been killed between the bombing and shooting yesterday in Norway. When Larry told me this as we were eating lunch today, I literally felt sick to my stomach. Norway is one of those places like Canada or Finland or Greenland - shit like this just doesn't happen in these places.

And of course I think, "I'm glad I wasn't there when that happened."

What happened in Norway is another reminder to me of "right place/wrong time" - of this idea of chance.

Or fate, depending on how you look at it.

Tragedy happens; it strikes like a viper: indiscriminate, fast, and slithers away almost faster than we realize that we've even been bit.

We always think that Things Like This will always happen to Someone Somewhere Else.

Sometimes they do: New York, Afghanistan, Japan, Maryland, Norway.

Sometimes that Someone Else is us: premature ovarian failure.

But just like all those tragedies and moments that may happen miles and miles away from us, I am reminded to be grateful and thankful for this moment, and for where I am in my life. Not just geographically, but in a broader sense of being thankful for the privilege of being alive in this moment where I am.

That of everything else that might be going on in my life - whether it's a toothache or frustrations at work or living with infertility on a daily basis - my family is safe, my friends are okay, and I'm safe and loved.

And I am extremely humbled and grateful knowing that.

I should be thankful and grateful for this everyday, and it's truly sad that it takes tragedies like this to give me pause to remind myself of this gratitude.

That no matter what's happening in the world, no matter what's happening in my life: I should always be thankful for the privilege of being alive right now. But I guess it's when such a senseless loss of life happens that I become more cognizant of this sentiment.


Thoughts and prayers for the people of Norway tonight.


Carpenters said...

Wow, your post was very monumental to me.

I needed this, thanks!

Lavender Luz said...

I am fascinated by the time-and-space-and-fate issues you raise in this post.

It makes we wonder something I often do, even though it sounds trite: what's it all about? Why are we here? Lots of whys.

N said...

I've been reading for a while, but haven't ever de-lurked to comment. However, this post spoke really strongly to me, in a way I can't quite explain.

Thank you for it.

Heather said...

Thank you for this post. I agree that we should be grateful.
Sending love and prayers to Norway too.

Damita said...

Wow great post! Thank you for this post.

SmartOneKym said...

"I should always be thankful for the privilege of being alive right now. But I guess it's when such a senseless loss of life happens that I become more cognizant of this sentiment."

Yes, this. Tragedies always lead me to think more closely about what blessings I have, and urge me to squeeze a little more tightly to them. Sometimes I even feel guilty about feeling my love more intensely in the face of tragedies, when there are others whose love is wracked with grief.

Sandy said...

Wow. Thanks for posting this. I truly needed the reminder today of how blessed we are just to be living!

justine said...

I know what you mean, Keiko. And the smaller scale tragedies: a friend of mine, my age, went to the hospital last week on Thursday thinking he was having asthma and discovered he was in heart failure. He has two children, aged 2 and 5. We have been reeling. I went to see him today, and they are doing everything they can for him. But holy crap. How blessed I am to be alive.

areyoukiddingme said...

I don't usually get so struck by tragedies in other places. Natural disasters happen, and it's horrible. Unfortunately, we just have to put up with that sort of thing - there's no way to prevent it. So I send some money to the Red Cross and hope for the best for the affected people.

The Norway attacks and 9-11 are senseless tragedies that didn't need to happen. Based on a skewed worldview, someone decides to end the lives of others. I wish I could understand why people feel so free to violate the most basic principle of law. But they've been doing it since the beginning of man, I suppose, so maybe I should consider it no different than a natural disaster?

But I'm with you - I'm glad I'm not there - I don't know if I have the emotional reserves to deal directly with that level of tragedy.

jjiraffe said...

Excellent post. I was in Belgium when the Norway attacks happened and we all were devastated. Security was incredibly tight after that. As a blond/blue eyed woman traveling alone, I was marked as suspicious, questioned numerous times and body searched twice (no one else on my plane was).

It's odd that while we might not be there, and we're glad we weren't these events will affect us in known and unknown ways over the coming days and years.