Larry Zaroff's essay "Tsunami Time" is a good reminder of how compelling the moment is, and how quickly we move on.
Five A.M., Sat Feb 27, 2010
The phone in the living room signals but not loud enough to stir the bedroom. A vague thought: I did not operate yesterday, no one is bleeding. Six a.m., the horn shouts, not in celebration. Every hour for the next five the tsunami warning braces the air bringing every molecule to attention. The instrument is 100 yards from our apartment. These sirens are in place all over the island, most close to the beach. They are not an orchestra. The pitch is the same, the noise cumulative, lashing out at birds, fish, bending the palms. I am staggered by the resonance, hearing the phone again in the distance. A retired doctor who lives on Kauai and his wife are calling us to higher ground. Esther says, “don't bike today, come to our house, I am going to the store.” (for supplies). We turn on the TV and learn of the quake in Chile and the oncoming waves, expected to be up to 15 feet, bringing along every rock, brick, wood, plant in the way. “Kauai prepare for the assault at 11:56.” Our rental condo is a heave away from the ocean, great view but not without its potential hazards. “Evacuate. Evacuate now. Don't wait. The roads will close. Poipu residents go the Koloa School. Bring food, water, flashlights, babies, animals, and valuables, enough for five days.”
What the hell are they thinking? All tourists eat out. The uncertainty, The uncertainty. THE UNCERTAINTY. No one knows for sure what the wave height will be. Our friends asks us to arrive at ten. Now is the time to find out what you value: we pack hard-drive back-ups, IDs, meds, extra underwear. I choose a book, Dostoevsky's The Idiot. I leave treasures: a fine white burgundy, a great Italian olive oil, my Stanford grad hat. I am not encouraged when an egret squats on our deck, 20 ft above ground. What has this bird in mind? I mean it can fly, theoretically above the waves. What can it know? When we drive to our house of rescue, the roads are naked, we do not sight another car. Cruising on the moon must be like this. We arrive at our new home, 250 ft above the water, are served cheese, bread, coffee, fruit while gazing at the distant beach. Nothing moves. The waves lap. The TV over the next 3 hrs reeks with excitement, which gradually diminishes as the waves refuse to obey the Tsunami Warning Center, and make at best, a token appearance. By 2 p.m. the Governor announces, “thanks to the conservative Republican administration Hawaii has been saved at no cost to the tax payer.” We express gratitude to our friends and go home to find my bike has a flat tire, a temple has fallen off my reading glasses, and our dinner planned is cancelled. Life is imperfect.