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Friday, March 11, 2011

God's Wind

The wind rustles the tall golden grass of the silent graveyard as I pass through it on my way home from lunch with my Moroccan family. It is cold today and a chill mist drifts down from the looming clouds that form a grey and threatening ceiling above my tiny village. Tombstones jut at odd angles from their mounds, poking above the sea of grass as immobile reminders of finality; the long stems sway in the breeze and brush the cold stones. Death surrounded by life. In many ways the entire village is like this right now, with the advent of spring. The willows have begun to bud along with the poplars and the tall walnuts that stand hidden behind the Qaida. Snow remains on the nearly sterile heights, but I know from last year that the thorny ifssi that grows here and there on the mountainsides will soon burst into a riot of bloom and the warming air will be heavy with their scent mixed with the raw, flinty smell of Atlas stone.

In front of the post office, I see three of my friends who tell me with no preamble that a tsunami has hit Japan and hundreds of people have been killed. I have a hard time following the fast berber narrative and when they slow down I hear about swamped fields and houses on fire. It seems unreal, to hear of such pain half a world away spoken of in a 3000 year old dialect in the middle of the Atlas Mountains. I end the conversation quickly and I say I will go home to look it up on the internet.

Passing through a narrow alleyway winding through the ruined remains of the Kasbah, I note how pale the earthen walls look against the leaden sky. Looking upward I see whisper-thin tendrils of snow beginning to descend the flanks of Tissekt Tamda, the folded mountain that I watch the sunset light up in the evenings. As the snow begins to fall, it seems as though the mountains are being erased, lines are blurred and the whole scene seems to take on an ethereal tone. I reach my door and let myself in with a bang of metal.

I turn on my computer and let the modem dial, it takes a few minutes to load CNN. The horror is plastered there on the page for all to see; body counts, videos of sweeping waves and homes ablaze. On one part of the island, firefighters are working to quench an oil refinery that has caught fire, on another a nuclear plant is shut down as radiation leaks out into the surrounding countryside. I close the page down and sit for a minute. Trying to comprehend bad news is always difficult, I try to put myself in the shoes of the victims but never can. It is a level of pain and shock that I can’t even fathom; that I don’t want to fathom. I remember another time, nearly ten years ago, when I sat on the edge of my grandmother’s bed watching the twin towers crumble and collapse in New York. It was September 11th, 2001; I was 14 years old. People were running toward the camera, grey with dust and faces streaked with dark trickles of blood.

My family and I sat there, stunned and no one spoke for a couple of hours. Our circuits were fried in the face of the horror that played out before us like a movie. But it wasn’t a movie.

Last night, I listened to an NPR program called “This American Life”, they were talking about a 1950s talk show that hosted a survivor from the Hiroshima blast and I listened he told his story in halting, emotional, English. The show ended with a tearful handshake with the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the bomb that fateful day, who was also a guest on the show. The pilot had retired and become a sculptor. His most famous work was a marble mushroom cloud with runnels of blood streaking down its sides. He called it ‘God’s Wind at Hiroshima?’. It is a question he asked himself for the rest of his life.

Pain and Disaster. Death and Silence. Some of this we cause, some sweeps ruthlessly down from the universe. A bolt from the blue; an act of God. God’s wind? I can do nothing to help the people in Japan, I can do nothing from here in my village in the Atlas. I simply will sit here, feeling again as though I am on the edge of my grandmother’s bed and numbly watch as disaster unfolds. My thoughts and prayers are with those who are in pain. Peace be with you all.

Thanks for reading,