On our second-to-last night in Arizona, Beth and I decided to watch a movie in our cozy hotel room at The Saguaro after an amazing (Thai) dinner in Scottsdale. As we browsed through the in-room entertainment guide, we happened upon The Impossible, a 2012 release depicting one family’s experience of the 2004 (Thailand) tsunami.
My knowledge of the film was limited to the tidbits I had picked up during a Today Show interview with Ewan McGregor (and other assorted publicity hits). I was left with a few impressions: that the special effects were incredible, that the acting was top notch (Naomi Watts in a powerhouse performance), and that the film had received criticism for telling the (true) story of a European family rather than native Thai people. I consulted Rotten Tomatoes, and with 81% Fresh, I thought it would be worth a watch.
Within the first few minutes, Beth and I were both on edge; the opening scenes carefully setting up a picturesque family vacation, complete with nuanced moments of bliss and tension. Two of the three sons getting into an argument on the plane. Releasing balloons into the starry night sky during a beachfront Christmas Eve celebration. Poolside discussion: would the dad lose his job and the mom go back to practicing medicine? Was the son allowed to have a can of Coke? (No). We (the audience) knew these questions would soon be rendered inconsequential by forces of nature beyond human comprehension.
And then it began to unfold. A night of insomnia and the feeling that something just wasn’t quite right. The perfect, sunny pool day suddenly becoming windy, with papers flying our of the mom’s hands. Arm hairs standing up on end. Pausing and bracing for something unforeseeable. And then, the tidal wave, brutally ripping our family apart and causing mass destruction and devastation. The fear of coming to a watery end, of being alone, of being separated from one’s family. The unbearable pain of losing a child or a parent or a partner. And in this family’s case, against all odds, (spoiler alert) being miraculously reunited.
The film’s (implicit) message continued to reverberate in my mind in the days and weeks that followed:
a tsunami can hit, and, in an instant, change everything.
In the wake of a tsunami, little day-to-day things that once mattered, don’t matter at all. Situations that were once stressful and difficult become totally insignificant. From this perspective, the tsunami represents a wake-up call, a loud alarm signaling it’s time to open your eyes and realize what’s truly important – things like family, friendship, love, compassion, peace, and kindness.
When I heard about the bombing in Boston, I could not help but think that this was another kind of “tsunami.” When one (or many) is able to pull off a tragic shooting, or bombing, or other despicable act of terrorism, a flurry of perfect storm-like conditions must occur for all the pieces to fall into place. It’s only after the crime that we’re able to gain hindsight into what could have been done to prevent it. In many cases, we discover that there were a multitude of factors that seamlessly came together and subtle clues that were missed along the way. Though it may be more difficult for us to comprehend, the natural tsunami is not so unlike the man-made tsunami in that it could not have been prevented (at least not with the awareness we had at the time).
Whether we are forced to endure a tsunami by way of human or nature, it can bring up intense sorrow, grief, fear, and a wide spectrum of difficult emotions. Watching other people suffer immensely, almost beyond belief, stokes our own sense of empathy and awareness. We have a visceral reaction that can make us realize that the pain of others can be felt as palpably as our own. We realize that it can happen anywhere at any time to anyone. Tsunamis know not race or age, nationality or religion.
From this place of awareness, we are compelled to honor who and what truly matters to us, making our life experiences profoundly more meaningful. We are asked to focus less on the differences between us and more on what we have in common. We can transform into little fountains of love and awareness that spiral outward in infinite ripples, a different kind of perfect storm.
I can’t tell you I’ve made sense of these tragedies, that I understand why they keep happening in our country, or that I’ve figured out what we can do to stop them. That is simply more than I can handle just being me. However, I do not need to experience a tsunami firsthand, man-made or otherwise, to realize what I can do: I can love my family and friends a little more, I can do my best, each day, to be helpful and compassionate and kind. I can be hopeful and grateful and optimistic. I can focus on all the goodness that we are capable of, even in our darkest hour. I can recognize incredible acts of heroism and bravery and truth. I can be the change I want to see in the world.
In honor of Earth Day (you know, that small blue marble we all share), maybe we can all do that a little more.