Belgium, December 29, 2004. For days now I have been confronted with TV-images of bloated and rotting bodies littered along shores, of parents crying over the corpses of their children, of living children staring dumbfounded into a camera and holding up a note with their name and the question “Seen parents?” – while it is almost certain, after three days, they have become orphans. Thousands of orphans and they still cling to their note.
It seems that in reporting about such disasters some media tend to focus on the material destruction, on the spectacular waves, on interviews with the living who have escaped. Occasionally you see, for a few seconds, some coffins or a crying person. Other media focus more and longer on the human horror, not for the show, but to make sure we understand the impact of this calamity and are encouraged to give very generously to the disaster funds. Tens of thousands killed, of which one third to one half children. It is beyond our ability to comprehend.
I reread 3 Nephi 8. This time those verses became poignantly real. It were not just cities sinking “into the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof were drowned”. Now I had seen for myself innocent children swallowed by the raging sea. With my own ears I had heard the outcome – “great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually.”
This is also a disaster that struck indiscriminately the poor and the rich, the celebrities and the humble fishermen. Wealthy vacationers, newlyweds on their honeymoon, staying in hotels next to local towns and villages. This time not just inhabitants of a faraway country, but also thousands of tourists from our own countries. We read on the web the frantic e-mails of their families here, waiting in despair for a signal. All are affected.
Much can now be written about the fragility of life. About how we can be walking on a paradisiacal beach, and seconds later everything is destroyed and the sea leaves us with cadavers and the wailing of survivors who have lost parents, children, brothers, sisters. “Why am I left alive?” is their often heard question.
A Belgian reporter wrote: “At least, if we knew this was God’s wrath, it would make some sense”. Is that a valid thought or the summit of irony?