Article: When Bad Things Happen

Posted: March 14, 2011 in Articles

As many of you are aware, there was a great tragedy in Japan last week, and the full magnitude of the damage has yet to fully come to light. Subsequent to a powerful earthquake, a massive tsunami washed over the islands, creating devastation the likes of which we have rarely seen. My heart goes out to all of those affected by the disaster, and those who worry from afar over friends and relatives who are in the area. I think that most of us could only imagine the terror and dislocation of such an event. Our world is a potent system, and its forces ebb and flow without any concern for we small organisms who live upon its surface. We have done our best to control the world around us, but our powers are limited and fallible. So much of what I discuss on this site involves controlling our tiny corner of the world. By changing ourselves, we can change our interaction with the planet. We can live with a different level of capability, comfort, and sense of well being.

If we so choose. There is the crux of our whole struggle. There are times when we cannot choose, as in the case with Japan. Those who were within the area of destruction could only do their best to survive and to help their fellow citizens to do the same. If we are ever in such a situation, I am sure that most of us hope that we will be up to the task of acting bravely and well. May we never need to find out.

What we discover each time we make a plan to improve our health and manage to stick to it is that we have enough mental fortitude to weather some discomfort in return for a sense of accomplishment, and perhaps an expanded level of health and strength. These tests we give ourselves are nothing much in the grand scheme of things. We’re not curing disease, solving poverty, or changing conditions for our fellow humans, but we’re making ourselves a little better. Perhaps we’re getting one step nearer the level of capability that we might need if things ever get really bad.

Back to the tragedy in Japan. With our globe-spanning news, we see these sorts of awful events unfold on a weekly basis. Earthquakes, mudslides, floods, tidal waves, pointless bloodshed…we are confronted by the meanness of the world so often that it is hard to feel, dangerous to do so. We armor ourselves such that we aren’t tempted to take these distant and unsolvable problems to heart. If we felt everything in full, if we empathized with everyone who’s hurting, we’d be unable to function.

I didn’t write this article with the expressed intent of talking about Japan. Of course, the people of Japan are in my thoughts, and I can only hope that they continue to find the strength to persevere. I wanted to talk about something more personal. Something that happened close to home, somewhere that I don’t have armor with which to shield myself.

For reasons of sensitivity, I won’t go into detail about what happened, but something really upsetting occurred last Friday. I was at work, and was within earshot of the event. I was able to function and do what had to be done at that time, and I have continued to be, as we often say, okay. That said, the original meaning of okay was, “zero killed”, and by that definition…

We see and hear things, from time to time, that bring home the fragility of life, of the quickness with which it can slip away. We are reminded that, but for a few changed circumstances, we would be the ones in trouble. I hope like hell that I am never so callous at heart that something like what happened last week doesn’t haunt me, that it doesn’t remind me of how lucky I am, how lucky most of us are.

If you have the luxury of hoisting a heavy object, if you have the good fortune to be able to take time to argue over which implement works best with some stranger on the Internet, if you find yourself blessed enough to agonize over whether you should high bar or low bar squat…boy, cherish it. Your whole world could be turned inside out. You could be in such a bad state of mind that you couldn’t imagine ever having a good day again.

Every time I come back from exercise, sweaty and stiff, perhaps beaten up by some goofy stunt I’ve tried, I feel like I’m living life to its fullest. I am wealthy enough to have free time, healthy enough to expend energy simply for kicks, and in a state of mind that will allow me to enjoy myself while I press toward my goals. I’ll admit that many of my goals are silly, worth little at the macro level. That said, I’m able to pursue them, and do that vigorously. I often lament about not having time to do all that I want, about feeling stretched too thin, but what a wonderful thing to have that problem. Poor me, with too many interests and hobbies. Poor me, amused half to death and generally spoiled rotten.

We never know how much time we have, or if life’s got a piano waiting to drop on our heads somewhere on the road ahead. All we have is the present, and the adventure of trying to get where we’re going. It’s on us to appreciate that, and go at all our Quixotic quests with all guns blazing.

  1. Chris says:

    I’m sorry you had to witness that! Like the story I told you, Nothing is as eye opening as Human frailty when it’s right in front of you. You need me, I’m there


    • Chris, I’m doing all right, but it’s still a little weird. I walk right by the spot where it happened all the time. There was a really tiny potted plant that someone left there this morning. Thanks for the offer. I’ll just be processing it for a while, I think.

  2. Mike says:

    Hey Patrick,

    I read what happened on your friend Josh’s site – damn. Going to work is bound to be weird for a while. When something like this happens, it makes you pause and do an accounting – ask the big questions.

    You’re right of course. Those of us who have the time and energy to persue our hobbies and interest, no matter how insignificant in the grand scheme, are lucky. (Is there a grand scheme? I guess that’s one of the big questions.) I think our “silly” pursuits are significant because they differentiate us as individuals, and not just one in billions. As far as I’m concerned you’re doing a lot of stuff right if you hit the sack tired and content, then wake rested. So Stunt On!

    • Mike, the hallway where the event occurred is right outside my office. Every time I go to the elevators or the restrooms, I walk right over where the woman landed. There is still a faint outline of the blood stains, though the rubberized carpet was steam cleaned by a haz-mat team. Though we are primarily all right, and work continues, there is still a lingering strangeness. Perhaps there is no grand scheme, as you say, but I fully understand that my own concerns are small and fairly inconsequential. That said, I hold onto them with additional vigor today.

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