“Even the Way the Clouds Move Isn’t Right”

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April 16, 2011

While Congress and the President wrestle over 2012’s budget for the next month or so, playing their games of double-double-dare-you and using our lives as the chips, I thought it appropriate to write about catastrophe this week.

The word, of course, comes from the Greek verb katastrephein – to turn over – and, according to the Oxford Dictionary, currently means: 1) a great and sudden disaster, 2) a disastrous end or ruin, 3) an event producing a subversion of the natural order of things.  This third definition comes closest to what I want to write about today.

Two things brought me to that topic this week (okay, three, if you count our cantankerous Congress).  The first – an undefined “something” – has niggled at me off and on since I learned about peak oil, climate change, economic collapse and all the other problems we don’t seem to want to get serious about as we head toward our own cliff of catastrophe.  The second – a quote in an article I read a week or two ago, over at msnbc.com – finally brought the first into sharper focus.

Everyone – doomer and non-doomer alike – has a mental picture of what catastrophe looks like.  The picture differs from person to person.  It may be as narrowly focused and personal as the loss of a job, home or loved one, or as broad as the destruction of a city or the collapse of society as we know it.

Doomers, of course, talk a lot about that last one.  Our pictures of catastrophe may look like a scene from Mad Max, The Day After or a mongrel mix of Little House on the Prairie and High Noon.  We may even talk of what catastrophe sounds, smells and tastes like.  What we rarely seem to picture – except in doomer fiction, perhaps – is what catastrophe feels like.

It’s as if we doomers believe that the world will fall apart on Thursday and, by Friday, we will have hauled out the fifty-pound sacks of beans and rice, loaded the guns and be out in field pushing the hand plow behind the mule by six o’clock in the morning.  Too bad, so sad, let’s get on with collapse.  Or, if you prefer to survive in town, push the bodies aside, call the neighborhood meeting, make sure everyone has at least some beans and rice; now, let’s get on with collapse.  And, the better prepared the doomer is, the more he or she seems to talk that way.

I don’t think it’s going to be like that, folks.  Yes, we may have to do all of the above – and quickly.  Just as they have had to do in Japan this past month and Haiti, Katrina and Indonesia before that.  But we fool ourselves if we think the doing is all there is to it.  As we deal with what catastrophe looks like, we will also have to deal with what it feels like.  And out of all the pictures, articles and videos of the aftermath in Japan, nothing brought that home to me more clearly than the quote from the 64 year old Japanese woman in the msnbc.com article (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42490830/ns/world_news-asiapacific/).  She said of her experience, “Something has changed. The world feels strange now. Even the way the clouds move isn’t right.”

Whether it’s the rending of a marriage, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, the destruction of whole cities by an earthquake and tsunami or the collapse of a nation’s economy, this is what catastrophe feels like.

There is a sudden heat of shock as your world shatters, the mind and body numbs as the brain struggles to reboot.  Something has changed.

The numbness goes on for weeks, or months.  No matter how well prepared you thought you were, you fumble around on autopilot while you struggle to put the pieces back together.  They no longer fit into the familiar and comforting whole.  The world feels strange now.

Large chunks of your life go missing – the sound of his gargling after he brushes his teeth; the smell of the coffee she made each morning to wake you; the drive to a job that no longer exists; the certainty that when you flip the wall switch, the lights will come on and that when you’re out of food, the grocery store will be open and stocked.   Even the way the clouds move isn’t right.

I think we do not like to talk of how these things feel because we cannot really prepare ahead for that.  It comes unbidden.  The slashing pain of loss that grabs us when we least expect it.  The constant, dull ache we fear tells us more about our weaknesses than we want to know.  The deep disorientation as we struggle to build something new from pieces of what can never be put back together in the same way. The energy-sapping guilt of even trying to rebuild without them.

The feel of catastrophe is as old as mankind.  Yet, each time, it surprises us like the sharp pain of a stubbed toe.  If we are to build something that will survive the mistakes and tragedies of our pasts – whether personal, communal or national – we must at least prepare to be unprepared for that surprise.  In pretending otherwise, we risk shutting out those feelings and committing the insanity of trying to cram pieces that no longer fit into the same old – often-destructive – patterns.

When catastrophe happens, something will change – not only around us, but also within us. The world will feel strange, then and for a very long time after. While we’re going through it, even the way the clouds move will not seem right.  We must understand this; we must embrace and go through this.  If we do, we will eventually create a new pattern from the pieces of the old – changed, perhaps strange for a while before we settle in, but one in which, in time, even the way the clouds move feels right again.

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12 Responses to “Even the Way the Clouds Move Isn’t Right”

  1. pamela says:

    another great post. You sure have a way of focusing things Ozarker.

  2. PseudoPhil says:

    An excellent post, and your point is well taken. Thanks.

  3. Patty says:

    Agree almost completely. However, the emotional, spiritual and physical prepping has felt a lot more futile. First, the Gulf disaster and now Fukishima, have really brought home to me that there truly is no place to run. All the bug out preps in the world can’t help one outrun radiation and a fouled atmosphere and water. I would have agreed that someday the clouds would appear the same again, but I think that greed has moved us too far down the slope. I no longer believe that our biosphere can recover in the time frame left to us humans. Welcome to the brave new world.

  4. theozarker says:

    Hi Patty, brave new world, indeed. Humans are pretty resilient, but I agree that there are some challenges we may not recover fully from or recover from at all. My main point, though, was that we need to recognize that prepping for all the physical needs can’t prepare us for the emotional shocks that any type of catastrophe brings – even to those who have prepared physically – so we need to be aware of that and understand that we’ll have to deal with those, too, if we’re really going to survive and, hopefully, thrive.

    It gets pretty scary sometimes, but hang in there.

    • Patty says:

      Yes’m, I will. I think that after prepping for the past few years diligently and hoping to survive in place against lots of different disaster scenarios, that the whole over-the-topness of the radiation from Japan and ocean death via the GOM, somehow kicked me off the hamster prepping wheel and more into an acceptance place in my mind and soul. Like I said elsewhere, I am remarkably content with my life, friends and family and my wee dogs. My focus has shifted to love. It’s really all that I can do with all my heart and have any hope of making any difference in the world, our beautiful, blue world that has been so badly pillaged.

      So. Love it is, and that much over-used and maligned word, hope.
      Bless you and all the good-hearted, good-intentioned folks. Here I will stand as long as I can. This is my place.

  5. Ollamha Anne says:

    In many ways, the process of dealing with the emotional impact of a catastrophe is similar to the process of dealing with the death of a loved one. Even when it is expected, nevertheless, it is still shocking, and somehow still unexpected. In the first shock, you may even carry on as if nothing unusual had happened, even though you are physically coping with the situation, following through with your plan, whatever it is.

    But… that insulative numbness wears off, sooner or later.

    For the people stuck in shelters in Japan, like any refugees, they are stuck in the middle of a slow emergency. The numbness has given way to an emotional dismemberment because there is no normal to give them a safe place to grieve.

    If we must bug out, our sense of normal will be seriously disjointed, even if all of loved ones are safe and unharmed. “Home” is our emotional safe place, not just a physical safe place. It strikes me that having a centering “ritual” activity can help (whether it is prayer, or a tea ceremony, or something that you do every day, wherever you are) to create normalcy in abnormal circumstances.

    Anyhow, that’s my two cent’s worth.

  6. theozarker says:

    Hi Anne, Yes, I think it will be similar to grieving for a loved one. Whether we bug out or “bug in”, we will have lost something important to the continuity of our lives. I like the idea of a “centering ritual”, or even a centering routine that will not have been affected by the calamity. That’s one reason I suggested putting a child’s favorite toy, game or book in their bug-out bag – especially for young children – in the blog post about building your bug out bag. It gives them some small sense of continuity in all the change.

    Nice to hear from you.

  7. Dee in OK says:

    Your words always move me. Thank you for your brilliant and courageous observations.
    “Even the way the clouds move isn’t right.” reminded me of the poem “Funeral Blues” by W. H. Auden. “The stars are not wanted now; put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;…” It seems that our griefs are being multiplied by our daily shock at the outrageous shenanigans of governments, the abuses of the earth, and the disasters befalling our fellow humans. No matter how we express our reaction to these disappointments there is an under-lying sense of mourning for what we have lost and/or what may never be.
    I found that poem at a time of great personal loss and now find myself returning to it searching for clarity. The poem is shot through with anger and pain. As am I. We should be better neighbors, we must stand against injustice, we should prosecute crooks and liars, we must set right the motion of the clouds.
    As Patty said, “Love it is.”

    On another note: Thought of you when I found this site: onbeing.org. Some of the articles remind me of your writing, in substance and style if not subject.

    • theozarker says:

      Hi Patty, thank you. I love that Auden poem, thanks for reminding me of it. Losses are learning experiences, but only if we admit our losses and grieve for them. You rightly said, “We should be better neighbors, we must stand against injustice, we should prosecute crooks and liars, we must set right the motion of the clouds.” But how can we do that if we don’t want to face the pain of those losses. Sometimes we think it’s just easier to pretend the loss doesn’t matter or isn’t real, to avoid the pain and anger loss brings – until it finally catches up with us. And sooner or later, it always does, doesn’t it?

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

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