It’s the Tsunami Factor

A few days ago I got quite a shock when I realised my friend was serious about December 21st possibly being the end of the world.  At first I was irritated by what I considered irrationality, and was dismayed by my friend’s credulity.

It seems – from a poll of over 500 respondents to A Nice Ring to It’s Freshly Pressed article Six Reasons Why the World Isn’t Going to End in 19 Days – that almost  95% of us would laugh or cringe at the latest apocalyptic prediction, though a little over 5% of respondents declare a belief in some catastrophic event on that date.

Indeed, here in Sri Lanka, supermarkets have apparently asked suppliers to fast-track delivery of non-perishable food items, and things like candles, bottled water, and mosquito repellent are walking off the shelves.  Everyone on my friend’s staff has asked to be released on the 20th to go to the village to be with family, forcing my friend to consider what she should do to ensure her family’s survival if such an event were to occur.

“How can this be?” I wondered, “especially here in literate Sri Lanka, a society that has survived over two thousand years of the vicissitudes of war, colonisation, pestilence and ecological change?”  Each time my friend talks about it, I’m forced to think more about her reaction – she is my friend, after all.

Then it came to me.  It’s the Tsunami factor.

Eight years ago this month, over half a million people on this island survived the horrors of the water; of parents, children, husbands, wives being torn from their arms, never to be seen again.  Out of a clear blue sky, with no warning except for a strangely exposed seashore, 35,322* people died in Sri Lanka that morning.  In a nation of a little over 20 million people, almost everyone I’ve ever met knew someone who had died, or had lived to tell their harrowing stories of survival.  The stories are recounted still, as gut wrenching as if they’d happened just last year.  For the survivors, the displaced, their lives will never be the same – for the visitor, the physical and economic scars are visible still.

The Boxing Day Tsunami hit without warning, and the explanation for it was beyond the understanding of shell-shocked villagers.  Then, on their television screens one evening last week, dubbed into Sinhala and Tamil, appeared what purported to be a creditable documentary predicting another catastrophe.  The date – December 21st – is uncomfortably close to Boxing Day.

I think it is understandable that people who don’t have access to the range of resources we in the ‘West’ grew up with and take for granted – people who probably have good reason to not always believe what they have been told by their “betters” – might believe ‘foreign” documentaries like this.  I think it’s understandable, in a society still reeling from one of the great cataclysmic events in humankind’s history, that panic can spread easily.  In fact, a little over 25% of A Nice Ring to It’s pole respondents admitted: “I don’t want to, but I’ll probably be a little freaked out that day.” And with over 2 billion results from  a Google search for “21 December 2012”, who can blame them?

Out of the mire, perfection

It will be my turn to be shocked if I face the end of our existence on December 21st – or three days of darkness, for that matter – but in the meantime, remind me to be more understanding and tolerant of others’ beliefs and fears – there’s usually a reason.

* Wikipedia

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33 thoughts on “It’s the Tsunami Factor

  1. If I had survived that tsunami, or been anywhere near, I am pretty sure I would be skittish and looking over my shoulder as 12/21 approaches. Just reading the articles and seeing the photos of that time scared me. I went through the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquate here in Northern California, and that was just a few minutes of terror with no water involved, and I had quite a bit of PTSD for awhile….Yes, have patience and understanding for your friends.

    • When you experience something like that I think you believe that anything is possible where nature is concerned.

      One of the big issues about the Tsunami was that it came without warning. As a society people were appalled that nobody warned them about it – and here we have a warning, purporting to be creditable, so it’s understandable that people, if not believing, are at least hedging their bets. 🙂

    • We do that on the East coast of Australia too, TPT – the “kids” are a hot topic of conversation whether we’re in one, or the other! We even have a weekly rating, on the weather report.

      This “21 December event” doesn’t have anything to do with weather, I don’t think, but rather something from ‘outer space’ – goodness knows what, the scenarios are all so different it’s hard to get a grip! All hysteria, of course, but that’s the point of the post: to examine how something so unbelievable to me might be believable to people with different life experiences.

  2. I can understand the concern when people have gone through the horrors of an event like that tsunami. I can’t understand it from people who have no reason to think it could be true other than they’re hoping for the end of the world, or at least a sign to justify their beliefs.

    • Me either JM. That was a facet of the argument I had to avoid for fear of saying too much about freedoms here. Apart from the scaremongering in the west, I found the airing of that documentary in the most appalling taste and though they’re trying to remedy the situation by bringing in Sinhala speaking “experts” living abroad to talk about the science, it seems they’re being chosen on the basis that they keep the possibility alive – it’s so like The Newsroom scenario!

    • It is a slice of our reality, Emily and though it was a bit personal, on my friend’s side, I thought it was important to talk about it – especially after I read the vey humourous Freshly Pressed post and realised how different our stances were to those of the people here.

  3. You are utterly correct. It’s not about predicated dates. It’s about history… we wait for it to repeat it self. It seldom does precisely but often does in kind. And it’s for this reason we should not only be, as you say, understanding and tolerant of others’ beliefs and fears, but also live our lives to the happiest & fullest, so if disaster strikes in whatever form, one way or another our regrets are few 🙂

    • Yes, I couldn’t agree more – on both counts. Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt that I was a bit greedy for life, not doing the responsible thing and accruing wealth for my old age, but I sure have no regrets and that’s the gift I can give myself.

  4. You touch on so many issues in this post – religion, superstition (some might say they are the same), experience/history, fear, loss, and the way something small suddenly grows to be huge. I thought the end of the last century was meant to be the end of the world too. And Whitaker’s Almanac has predicted a number of similar catastrophes. I think it is more likely to come from global warming, globalisation and fighting over precious resources eg water and oil.

    This sort of thing tends to pass me by – I’d only ever know about it through reading blogs!

    • It’d usually pass me by too, RoughSeas, if it weren’t for the near hysteria that seems to have gripped some of the people here and the effect this has had on my friend.

      I reckon it’ll be us who makes our beautiful planet uninhabitable for most lifeforms long before some planetary cataclysm smashes into us or whatever. I always thought it would be a lack of water which did us in but after seeing some visuals of air pollution in Beijing and Shanghai the other day, I’m thinking perhaps we’ll asphyxiate ourselves first – which would be a blessing, I suppose – carbon monoxide poisoning is sure to be preferable to dying of thirst.

  5. Agreed! Fear is always based in something that is very real to the person who is afraid. In this case I think anyone having been touched by the Tsunami is justified in their fear.
    This is a really well written and thought out piece, Meredith.

  6. Que sera, but you’re right it is being talked about such a lot. I do hope it’s not a self fulfilling prophecy, I actually get the feeling that there are some people who will be disappointed if we’re all still here after Dec. 21st. I’ll be on my way up to NYC. 🙂

  7. I had, conveniently, forgotten all about it. I thought that 12/12/12 was one to worry about, but for no reason other than I had heard about it. I think the interesting this is that we are worrying about it because an ancient civilization does not have a calendar that goes farther than that date.
    What I always remember it an old “Archie’s” comic in which many of them discovered a “tablet” broken. The first piece was “king”. From this the group decided that they had, perhaps, found the ancient tomb (it was in English!) of some buried king. At the end, it is Jughead who puts the pieces together and walks off, leaving the “No ParKING Zone” tablet lying on the ground.
    Scott

    • I know, it’s the sort of hokus pokus that makes my blood boil with frustration – IF I were to hear about it, which I wouldn’t have, except that my friend became spooked by her staff.

      Didn’t remember seeing that one – but it’s been a while since I saw Archie 🙂

  8. I have completely missed the boat on this forecast apocalyptic date but I would keep an eye on any weather forecast with the intention of keeping superstition out of the equation. All best to you for the weather ahead.

    • As I said, I’ll be the most surprised among us if something catastrophic occurs!

      I don’t suppose I look forward to discomfort and inconvenience, but an end of the world scenario is fine by me – I’ve lived my life, and if there’s nothing to be done to save ourselves I won’t have any regrets. Whether I’d have the equanimity to sit as the waters or whatever engulf me is yet to be seen, but that would be my intention 🙂

    • Well, the one everyone seems to be hysterical about here is the 21 December.

      The whole thing seems to have started with the the “end of the Mayan calendar” affair – an end of the world scenario. Then someone came up with a “three days of darkness” prediction. I, of course wouldn’t have known anything about any of this if my friend’s staff hadn’t seen this documentary on their local TVs and started talking to her about it, and asking to be released from work to go home to their villages. Since she got spooked about it, and began to believe, I had to look into it a little – as i said, there were over 2 billion results from my Google search!

  9. I think you may rest easy? (I know. I do! ) You know, when you are working with a future calendar some time in the 1400’s and have worked your way up to 2012 – some 600 years into the future, it’s easy to think that you have plenty of time?
    So he had to take a journey? Or he had an accident? The calendar was left in a drawer. . . 😀
    Only to reappear some 500 years later crreating unjustified fear around the world.

    And if he was right,- what can you do about it?

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