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The Other Side of the World


It is a quiet evening at Lynmar Estate. The parking lot is empty and the gate is closed. The light fades slowly as shadow steals over the grey skies which have brought us periods of rain all day. As I look out of the window of our dining room, I see vines in neat rows, freshly pruned and bare. From here I can easily identify the older blocks, stocky, thick vines, clearly defined against the relief of the grass that separates them. My eyes travel over this beautiful, peaceful landscape, but the image in my mind, the one that I have not been able to shake, as vivid as it was six years ago is from Galle, Sri Lanka, when I was there two weeks after the South Asia Tsunami, which killed 230,000 people in 12 countries.

The sandal rested along the railroad tracks, atop broken bricks and wood siding, the remains of a house ravaged by the waves. Next to it was a partial coconut husk torn from one of the trees on the beach, or was it a remnant from somebody’s kitchen? Beside the coconut husk a pink bottle of  baby cream, over the dark green shirt that belonged to a little boy of two or three. Further down, a fuchsia sari stretched out like a bright streamer, giving definition and meaning to the loss on an incomprehensible scale.

On the track sat what was left of the train, its faded burgundy cars, empty. One thousand people had boarded the Queen of the Sea to travel from Colombo to Galle at 7:30 am on the day after Christmas. At 9:30 am, a wall of water over 30 feet high engulfed the entire length of the train’s eight cars, the force, pushing them off the tracks. The water receded and came back again a few minutes later. Over eight hundred people perished. Now the cars had been righted but their windows were broken and the doors gaped open.

For ten years before we moved to Lynmar two years ago, Lynn and I worked in disaster relief through Fritz Institute, supporting relief workers on the ground with tools and technology to make the response to disasters, faster and more effective. We witnessed remarkable heroism by ordinary people who risked and sometimes lost their lives helping neighbors, friends and strangers. We know hundreds of people who have chosen to devote their lives  to assisting the vulnerable in the most dire of circumstances. As the scale of the earthquake, Tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan reveals itself, I cannot but think of those on the other side of the world stunned by loss or who are there as part of the global response.

On evenings like this, I know that on this side of the world, we must all be grateful for our enormous good fortune and think of our responsibility to those who must cope with circumstances they did not choose.

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