Swept away

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Rick Horowitz
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nothing bright and witty today.

Nothing sharp and clever. Nothing with a sarcastic edge, or a skeptical bite.

No dudgeon, high or otherwise. No put-downs, no shout-outs. No policy fights. No partisan spats. No political points whatsoever.

Just sadness—deep, deep sadness. Sadness, and horror.

The earth shakes, and a country is brought to its knees. The earth shakes, and the wave comes, and everything is gone. Houses and schools, stores and ports and factories—all gone, all swept away in one horrifying instant.

And the people. The people, swept away, too, in one horrifying instant. Please, you find yourself thinking, let it have been quick, and painless. Let it have happened before the fear happened. The alternative is, somehow, even more horrible to contemplate.

The death toll, they’re saying, could rise as high as 10,000. But then you think of the one town.

A town of 17,000, until the wave came, and 10,000 disappeared. In one town. They had lives, families, struggles, hopes, dreams, routines. All gone. In one town. So how can…

Where are the stirring rescues? You wait for the stirring rescues, but there are so few of those, so few to be rescued, and so many beyond saving. The sea will send some of the bodies back, in its own good time, once it’s done with them. But rescues? Barely a handful. A man clinging to a rooftop, bobbing on the water, miles from home. Another man pulled, still alive somehow, from rubble. A family with a baby just 10 days old. The baby’s name, they tell the cameras, means “Lucky.”

It’s not enough. Not nearly enough.

And then the radiation.

On top of everything else, the radiation.

It couldn’t stop with just the earth heaving and the wave crashing, but then this: plumes of deadly particles venting, leaking, exploding into the air. Fires that can’t be extinguished, burning at temperatures beyond comprehension.

It’s all too much. It’s all so much too much.

Words drifting out of the TV screen—“containment vessel” and “suppression pool”—but what needs to be contained isn’t being contained, and what needs to be suppressed isn’t being suppressed. More words—“fuel rods” and “reactor core” and “lethal dose” and “critical” and “meltdown.”


The survivors lack food, and drinking water. They lack blankets, and shelter from the cold. Their hold on existence already so fragile, and now one more thing—unseen, venomous—hunting them down. Haunting them. Can they run? For how long? With what stamina? To what refuge?

And other questions, still unformed.

You find yourself watching the wind. Suddenly it matters terribly to you whether the winds are blowing toward land—toward the Japanese people—or out to sea. It’s a life-or-death question, the direction of the wind, and halfway around the globe, you’re hanging on news of every shifting breeze.

Spare them this, you’re thinking. After all the rest, at least spare them this.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

Last updated: 4:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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