Earthquakes and other disasters

The San Francisco Bay area was hit by a strong earthquake this morning, well, halfway through the night at 3:20 AM while most of us were in bed. I woke up wondering what was happening and found myself lying in a bed that seemed to glide gently back and forth as if a giant mother was trying to soothe a child by rocking its baby carriage. The movement seemed to last for several minutes, but it surely was less than one minute. Then everything stopped. There was no sound inside or out, no dishes falling off shelves, no books shaken out of bookcases, and no one in the street raising an alarm. I turned over and eventually drifted off to sleep.

We were lucky this time, but no one knows when the “big one” might hit the area and destroy lives as well as property.Later, of course, the news came about greater damage in the city of Napa as well as injuries, although most of them not very serious. It seems as though the only upside to a natural disaster is that it reminds us that the “disasters” we often spend our time complaining about are pretty trivial.

All week I’ve been feeling sorry for myself because

San Francisco City Hall after 1906 earthquake
San Francisco City Hall after 1906 earthquake
my computer broke down. Not only did I have to wait to get repairs and new parts, I also had days of worry about whether I had lost any of my precious files. Yes, I make backups, but I always worry that I could have forgotten some, or that my backups would be corrupted.Yesterday I finally did get my computer back and all the files had been copied on a new hard drive. Life is back to normal and I can get back to work on my book—the second volume of the Charlotte Edgerton mystery series. If only all problems had such good resolutions.

The earthquake was a reminder of how many real disasters—ones affecting hundreds of other people and not just me—are lurking on the borders of our lives. Nature’s indifference to human beings, the constant stream of droughts, earthquakes, floods and tornadoes is a never ending source of disaster. Add to that the human disasters of wars and violence and it’s easy to see what a dangerous world we live in. The only hope is to try to keep our own troubles in perspective, focus on our work, and help other people when disasters hit them. We can all summon courage to face the future and its disasters if we keep in

Abraham Lincoln and his young son
Abraham Lincoln and his young son
mind what Abraham Lincoln said: The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. And anyone can cope with just one day.

No one wins at war

Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “I cannot believe that war is the best solution. No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war”. The world has had a chance to see the truth of that statement over and over again during the last half century, most recently in the Middle East. Israelis and Palestinians have been struggling and fighting ever since the creation of Israel and no one has won.Eleanor_Roosevelt Many people have lost—lost their lives, their families, their freedoms—but there are no winners. There are no winners in Syria or Central Africa. Wars keep exploding and then sputtering out in temporary truces and ceasefires, but no one ever wins.

The same is true in all the wars against abstractions that America keeps declaring—the War on Cancer, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty—some have produced some limited good, but not one has ever been won. None will ever be won.

There is something wrong in the way we call for war every time we see something we don’t like. The only wars won these days are the fantasy wars on TV and movie screens where unreal villains are vanquished by unbelievable supernatural heroes. And only children believe in those.

The truth is, as the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation keeps telling us War Is Not the Answer.

It is not war that solves the world’s problems; it is hard work. That means the hard work of negotiating even with people we don’t approve of; the hard work of rejecting the schemes of arms manufacturers and refusing to send weapons to combatants; the hard work of education so young people will learn the value of compromise and conciliation; the hard work of listening to all the members of the UN no matter how unwelcome their comments.

War tries to exclude people—to push aside and overcome anyone and anything we don’t like, but life is lived by including as many people and opinions as we can, by hammering out agreements and compromises to keep the world moving ahead. How many of us remember the poem by Edwin Markham, a mostly forgotten poet, who wrote a verse favored by many anthologists and teachers?

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Eleanor Roosevelt knew that peace had to be won by drawing people in; the Friends Committee on National Legislation knows it too. How long will it be before our political leaders learn that simple truth?