Thursday, March 24, 2011

When All Else Fails

Today I received an email from a ship's captain who had sailed Japan waters during a typhoon, regarding my posts in 2006 about the wreck of the ship Giant Step (a 98,000 ton iron ore carrier) off Kashima Port, with the loss of 10 of the crew of 26. Two of the crew were never found, but I was informed by a relative that one of them was seen by the master of the ship to have been thrown against a pipe on deck with great force by a wave and killed instantly.

The two posts regarding that tragedy which appeared on Pacific Islander blog, resulted at the time with a flurry of emails to me from friends and family of crew members seeking information. The crew was Indian, with the exception of one man from Sri Lanka. I was one of few sources of information that was available to them in English. It was a very sad circumstance, but one which resulted in warm bonds with family and friends of the crew. Four and a half years on, I still get inquiries. I provide what information I can.

Now, we deal with the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. The aftershocks go on - hundreds of them. Over 60 have been of magnitude 6.0 or above. We reluctantly arose this morning after three quakes in a row, just minutes apart. It is still difficult to get a good night's sleep.

"Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?" - Gordon Lightfoot, Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald

The present catastrophe in Japan is on such a scale as to be beyond our intellectual grasp. But it is the same dilemma that is faced by everyone, everywhere, whether a single sailor or the crew of a ship, or a nation, or all of us on planet earth. We may be caught on a vessel in peril, a nation gripped by natural calamity, or a world facing global warming, over population, and war.

We know the answers in most cases and all that is required is the will to act. But sometimes, we are overwhelmed by circumstances. Without giving up, we can still acknowledge our impotence and seek the strength of the forces which shape our destiny to encourage us to do what is needed.

In the Buddhist tradition I have followed, it is done by uttering the phrase, "Namu Amida Butsu" - entrusting in Amida Buddha's all embracing compassion.

The men who have been fighting to prevent a total disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. Hundreds - TEPCO workers, JSDF soldiers, Tokyo firefighters, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, engineers from around the country and abroad, and many others - have literally put their lives on the line to save others. Thanks to them, we will overcome that emergency. Thanks to thousands of others, Japan will rise again from the ruins of the great earthquake and tsunami. It will be a different place, but it will be a better one.

A firefighter emails his wife, "I am going to the Dai-ichi power plant." The response is "Please be a savior for Japan". Afterward, all the firefighters asked about what they want respond, "a good night's sleep". It is what we all want.

I'm not a Christian, but the US Navy's hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save" has always struck a chord with me. The lyrics were written by an Englishman (William Whiting) in 1860 on the occasion of a student leaving for America, and the music a year later by John Dykes. The two came together somehow.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our family shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoever we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

To anyone who has experienced the power of nature over man's feeble attempts at her mastery, these words must surely hit home.

As I wrote back in 2006, regarding the wreck of the ship "Giant Step" with the loss of ten lives, "or do we humans instinctively seek a kind of reality check, to see first hand that what we suspect about our technological superiority is true? That in reality, our supposed superiority over nature and our certainty of it, hangs by a mere thread, and that we need to take heed. We need to be reminded now and then of how tenuous that thread really is. In short, we need at times to be humbled."

Naval Academy Men's Glee Club:

Namu Amida Butsu

Until next, sweet sailing.


O Docker said...

I guess we don't realize how much we rely upon the routine of our daily lives for emotional shelter until that is shattered and we're forced to rebuild.

Maybe life is a perpetual search for the stuff that never moves.

Pat said...

Perhaps sailors are somewhat more prepared for when things do move.

bonnie said...


Beautifully written.

Martin J Frid said...

Minutes turn to hours, turning to days...

We are all learning a lot about crisis management right now.

Thanks a lot for this post.

Pandabonium said...

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

Anonymous said...

Well said and here's to a strong recovery for Japan.