Japan to California

The startling phone-ring breaks the silence of the dark night. I look over at the light of the alarm clock and it reads 5:34AM. Who’s calling at this hour? It’s never good news at this hour. Nipun calmly walks over to the phone in the other room. It’s a family member, he chats like it’s a normal conversation in the middle of the day. Eyes filled with sleep, worried I walk over to his door with a quizzical look. He’s simultaneously on the phone and searching for something on-line. “What – what’s going on?” Finally looking up, “The earthquake in Japan led to a 30-foot tsunami creating a lot of damage, and there’s a tsunami warning for the San Francisco area.”   

What? Half asleep I’m perplexed about how an earthquake all the way in Japan can cause a Tsunami in the Bay Area. And how does someone even find out about this at 5:30AM? This must be bad. As Nostradamus predictions and end-of-world scenarios run wildly through my mind, there’s nothing to even compare this to in my experience. Is it really possible that just when we think we have far more under control, with our state-of-the-art technology, we can wake up one morning and lose our homes and potentially our lives? That too, at such a mass scale? Just like that?  

I turn on the TV and there’s the news of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan that churned into a massive Tsunami, wreaking havoc on thousands of lives and now traveling towards Hawaii and the California Coast. We worry about our beautiful friend Yuka who lives in Tokyo. And yes, it looks like we can wake up one morning with our lives and homes at-risk because that’s exactly what happened to many of the residents in Sendai, Tokyo, and Honshu, along the Pacific Coast of Japan.

The broadcaster on channel 11 continues to reassure people that it will be no more than a regular high-tide in the S.F. area. They’re just closing down the Great Highway for caution, as a buffer. I go back and forth between the TV and Nipun, “It doesn’t sound that bad here -- they’re just closing off all the beaches.” He passes on the reassurance to the voice at the other end of the phone. Apparently a caring relative who’s on the East Coast (and thus three hours ahead) had seen the morning news about the Tsunami alert in California and called the relatives, who called other relatives. Indians are much like the Italian mafia, when one of us knows something it spreads across the rest of the family faster than the Tsunami moving at five-hundred-miles-per-hour. :-)

We finally go back to sleep after realizing that it was too early for any call to action, in Northern California.  But such sleep can almost be a wake-up call.

The number of natural disasters in the past few years has been astounding. And then there are all the quiet destroyers that hardly get the media attention, like malnutrition, aids, malaria, tuberculosis, and more that devastate lives. Given everything that goes on in the world each day, I continue to ask myself: how then do we live? People express themselves differently and my own response has been different at different times. I recall when I was volunteering at Mother’s Teresa’s Hospice in Calcutta, one thing that I heard she used to tell people was: serve wherever you are. Serve in your own country. You don’t need to come here. People need help everywhere. In the third world countries there’s obvious poverty, but that poverty is also everywhere else, especially spiritual poverty.

As I woke up the sun was streaming through the window; the disaster seemed to be averted locally, at least for the moment. I remembered Mother Teresa’s simple yet profound advice of serving wherever you are with whatever you have. And I thought of one addition -- to wake up! Don’t just get by, live with full awareness of the full potential of life every single day. Live each day fully as it truly could be the last. 


  1. Anonymous3/11/2011

    Guri- Neal and I really enjoyed reading this post. We agree with what you said- live life to the fullest!
    -Denise and Neal Pandya

  2. Hi Denise, Thanks! Great to hear from you. Hope you and Neal are doing well.

  3. dear guri,

    beautiful post... glad to hear your views in such turbulent times...


  4. Sheetal - I was saddened to hear the news today and see the death tolls continue to rise. It's such a wake-up call for all of us. We have to continue to do what we can with even more conviction.

    Hope you are well,