There I was working myself up into a state of emotional angst over all this internet aggro and then suddenly, bang, perspective hits home with the news of today’s utterly devastating earthquake in Japan. I had been planning to do a brief update blog about the pregnancy and what seems like apocalypse begins to unfold on the other side of the earth.
The problem with 24/7 global media coverage is that it tends to overly-dramatise what is happening. Not that I am in any way suggesting that what has happened is anything less than dramatic: this is the largest ever earthquake to hit Japan since records began, one can’t begin to imagine the carnage and devastation, it is like something out of a disaster movie. The tweets were coming thick and fast, earthquakes, tsunamis the west coast of America on alert, New Zealand on alert, it was truly terrifying.
For pidge of little scientific brain, all kinds of doomsday scenarios were going off in my head. What if the whole of America was destroyed, then a massive wave made its way over the UK. I live in Brighton on the coast, heavens to betsy, we’d have no chance against an enormous wave 3 stories high, travelling at 500 miles an hour, erm, no hang on we live on a hill, would it be able to travel up a steep hill, what about the sails on the windmill down the road, perhaps we could all take refuge and climb up the windmill, yeah that would be a great plan, or should I just hide under the bed, quake and pray. Readers of a certain age will remember the Mr Men, narrated by Arthur Lowe. I was Mr Jelly “aaargh, it’s an earthquake” quiver, quiver shake, best hide under the bed, err no actually it was a falling leaf.
Disaster movies with their spectacular special effects and dramatisation of cataclysmic disasters bring what could happen vividly to life, they make fake media broadcasts using real-life news organisations to render events as realistic and plausible as possible. So when we see the global coverage unfolding, events happening very very quickly, it seems that we are caught up in the surge of a dreadful natural disaster over which we have no control. Obviously for the people of Japan that became a terrible reality today and it must have been equally scary to be living in one of those areas at risk. For a few hours it did seem like Armageddon was unfolding, if the earthquake and tsnumi didn’t kill everyone, then the nuclear explosion would finish everyone off.
In the midst of all these tweets, almost instantaneously the jokes started flying. At first I was affronted. All I’d been able to think of was the genuine fear, panic and terror faced by those poor people affected, vividly imagining attempting to escape an enormous wall of water travelling at 500 miles an hour, or my home being reduced to rubble in an instant. Worst of all being separated from my children and not knowing whether or not they were safe. Right at this moment people were scared and dying, preparations were being made on the Pacific Rim and the West Coast of America was on full alert. How dare people laugh at others’ pain!
A comment that really riled me was one made by Toby Young, almost instantaneously as the news of the tsunami hit “How come George Monbiot hasn’t popped up to blame this earthquake on global warming? Come on, George.Wake up”. It seemed unnecessarily opportunistic, taking advantage of a tragedy to have a personal dig at someone else. Then Godzilla began to trend, much to the outrage of some. And the jokes came pouring in thick and fast. Was I being unduly po-faced I pondered, should we perhaps see a glimmer of fun in what was going on? Absolutely not is the answer, however when we imagine ourselves in the midst of a full-scale natural disaster, an Armagheddon which makes us realise our significance on this planet, what tiny minute ants we all are and how we are powerless against the forces of nature, one of the natural responses is that of laughter. The idea of gallows humour is well-known, funeral directors are known for having a black sense of humour. They have to develop it, to put on an outward face of pragmatism as a coping mechanism for coping with the often unpleasant business of death on an everyday basis. When you’ve been called out at 3am to deal with a suicide, road traffic accident or other accidental death by the coroner, sometimes humour is necessary to diffuse the horror.
Years ago, I was told that my father had been diagnosed with cancer. The circumstances were utterly surreal. I was at boarding school, my mother pitched up, I knew that my father had been very unwell, it had all been kept very hush hush from me in order that I didn’t flunk my GCSEs, and there I was, sat in the housemistresses office with my mother informing me in front of her that my father had cancer and would be embarking on chemotherapy. Actually given my record at school, I thought I was going to get a telling off for a packet of cigarettes having been found, so before she started speaking I spied the tray of doughnuts for house tea placed in the office and asked if I could have one, to diffuse the obvious tension. When I was told, what was my instinctive reaction? I laughed!! It just all seemed so surreal, me sat in Miss M’s office eating a doughnut with my mother using baby-language to describe the fact that my father had testicular cancer, necessitating an operation, which had then spread to the liver. It does not need to be stated that I found the situation anything but funny once it had sunk in.
Some of the jokes flying about today were very witty puns even if they were sorely lacking in taste. My husband put things into perspective as I was sat there fretting about the people of Japan in the antenatal clinic. My thoughts were “here I am, worrying about how and when this baby is going to emerge, in a nice clean safe hospital, with top-line medical care, highly trained professionals, and people right now are facing unimaginable terror and death. There’s probably a woman giving birth amid the quake right now. I’ve been getting so upset about this internet malarky when it’s meaningless in the big scale of things.”
When I conveyed my anxiety as to events, husband’s response was “look, don’t think I don’t care, I do very much and we must pray for them, but right now they are not my direct responsibility. You and my children and this baby are. That’s what we need to focus on for the next half hour. My job right now is to worry about you”. Of course we have prayed as a family later, but we all cope with these things in different ways, and the inevitable outrage about a said tweeter’s jokes ended up being rather faux and more than a little hypocritical. OK, so he made some tasteless jokes some of which were skillful puns, others a bit lame. Isn’t it rather hypocritical to be focusing on how other people are reacting, how they are not visibly displaying their grief, angst and trauma in the same way as you and thus they must be heartless and uncaring? Hit unfollow and move on.
I realised the fragility of my faith, when I began to ponder whether or not doomsday might really be rapidly approaching, given the sheer scale of natural disasters over the past few years. My mind started wandering into the realms of total paranoia, Mayan prophesies, analysing the date of the disaster 11.03.11. Was it something about the number 11? Could we find some patterns here? Ben Goldacre indulged in his forthright brand of de-bunking a Daily Mail report. He couldn’t work out what had possessed the Daily Mail to print such a report. I think the answer is clear, mankind is searching for answers in a world beset by chaos and disaster. To impose order upon the disorder. Which is where an understanding of the nature of God is vital.
I caught myself in check and reminded myself of what Matthew tells us of the return of Christ, when this world will cease to exist. “But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone.” Matthew 24:36.
It could be today, it could be tomorrow it could be centuries or millennia from now. There is no point speculating. All we can do is watch, pray, be vigilant and be ready to meet the Lord if he comes to us this very night.
For a Christian, it really will be a case of “the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine”. Joy will be an entirely appropriate emotion.