The world seems far more frightening in the wake of a natural disaster, particularly when it is of the cataclysmic magnitude of Japan. Especially for a generation like our own, raised in such relative security, we are shocked, saddened and scared to see the upheaval to ordered lives. We simply aren’t used to it.
Watching scenes of the roiling angry ocean pouring into Japan, all of a sudden the Mediterranean on which we live seems a bit more sinister (wild winds and weather the past three days haven’t helped calm that effect.) Rational or not, it feels as if mother earth was kicked in Sendai and all her mighty waters are now lashing out in protest.
Yesterday’s torrential rains in Monaco also brought over Sahara sand, a phenomenon that happens occasionally. Red sand from the Sahara swirls in the atmosphere and eventually works its way over and lands on our side of the Med. It covers all the places that rain falls - cars, boats, and buildings - with a fine, pale red dust. It’s a starkly visual reminder that for the winds that circulate in our atmosphere, distances are not as great as they might seem.
So it is the invisible danger swirling in Japan that is most terrifying now. The radiation leaking into the atmosphere we all share. That, and the breathtaking speed at which conflicting assessments of the dangers flow on top of the other. Reuters has reported that ‘radioactive materials spewed into the air by Japan's earthquake-crippled nuclear plant may contaminate food and water resources, with children and unborn babies most at risk.’ Germany has shut down seven of its older power plants and the Swiss are reviewing theirs for safety.
And even France, the most pro-nuclear country in the world, has been rattled. We live within a 10-meter vicinity of France, where apparently every person is within a 150-mile zone of one of the 59 nuclear power plants in the country. Today that is certainly a much more terrifying thought than it was before.
It’s impossible to imagine the human suffering unleashed since last week’s events. But I’ve been thinking of one little girl who died on October 25, 1955. A few years ago, my son’s fifth grade teacher asked me to read a book about her, as the teacher was concerned the story might be too sad for her young class. Called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, it is a true (and truly heartbreaking) story of a Japanese child who died as a result of radiation from Hiroshima. She wanted to fold one thousand paper cranes before she died, from a legend that said if a sick person folds 1000 paper cranes they would be made well. Sadako folded 644 before her death, 10 years after her radiation exposure. Her classmates, family and friends finished the remaining 356. We can only hope that this latest crisis in our nuclear world won’t someday require any more paper cranes…