As a toddler my family rented a large house in Waiehu, across a one-lane road from the beach. The land was flat, hills looming tall behind our home. As kids, my siblings and I spent a good amount of time playing on the beach, pocketing sea shells, chasing one another along the shoreline, and yelling our fool heads off when the cold water splashed against our bare legs. We enjoyed frolicking in the sand and the surf, while the heat of the tropical sun warmed and tanned our bodies.
I can recall one specific, sun-drenched day, when an eerie quiet hung in the air. And yet, there was a faint, far-off ringing that pierced the stillness. It seemed to come from the vicinity of the horizon. Over the period of a few hours, the entire ocean had withdrawn until it loomed ominously across the horizon line. After surveying the ocean floor, devoid of water, our family quickly withdrew to the hilltop, and awaited the inevitable.
The ringing grew louder as the sea came roaring back toward land, wave upon wave seeming to consume all that lay below us. And that’s where my memory ends. I’ve no idea what we salvaged, for we kept rabbits and chickens. Perhaps we released them to run for their lives, and went in search of them in the aftermath. I’ve no idea. I’ve also no recollection what damages befell our house. Those things don’t figure into a toddler’s mind, at least not mine.
I remember another time when I was older, my mom was driving a few of us kids along the road that ran past the pier that bordered Maui’s capital city, Wailuku, and the neighboring town of Kahului. Traffic crawled as those in cars gawked at people who had abandoned their cars alongside the road, running to scavenge fish that lay on the exposed ocean floor. They thought little about the risk to their lives, for it was certain they could not outrun the thunderous waves that would come crashing down upon them, when the sea rolled back in from where it stood along the horizon. The police seemed helpless in their efforts to corral those who would sacrifice everything for a few fish. My mom didn’t linger to witness the sad scenario that was destined to become even worse. We read of the fatalities the next day, in the local newspaper.
Though these events are distant memories, my fear is still palpable. As I watch TV news programs showing the terrible destruction in Japan, I can feel the despair that must have overwhelmed those who were unprepared for the onslaught, and the dread of those who could only watch as fellow Japanese were bandied about like Mother Nature‘s playthings.
Tsunamis, like other natural disasters, leave little to the imagination. They’re here, and then they’re gone. What’s left in their wake is of little consequence to them. Humankind is left to refashion its environment, after Mother Nature has had her way. Is there any doubt then, who is the true master of this earth we call home?
reflecting upon our smallness…keeps us humble…hugmamma.