Tuesday, October 11, 2005

PAKISTAN: A TOUCH OF THE HAND ON THE EDGE OF A SHOULDER

Out of a clear blue sky the walls came tumbling down. I'm assuming they tumbled. It looks like most of the homes were made from stone, and stone hurts. Stone is hard. Stone falling out of a sunny day, warm and bright, is harder. The pain is the same. Buildings made like that, from stone, could do nothing but tumble. The buildings themselves and the stones that sustain them. But something eased the fall. I feel it.

To lose one's life like that! So quickly! A fall on the head from a rock. Simple. Almost clean. And yet only moments before a mother and a daughter and a son and a husband were eating a meal, making love, preparing for work, getting ready to farm, ending an argument, trying to think of something to say, something. Anything. All of the above and none of the above. The entire range of human experiences and emotions from time past and time future were encapsulated into those few seconds. I am sure of it. Everything we have ever done, everything we will ever do, was there. Present. Within the space between their hands and their head existed all that we as humans can and should be. It was there, I say -- our pain and our hope and our fear and our love. Almost tangible. In the background, a rumble may have been heard. Yes, quite possible -- this harbinger of doom. Perhaps they knew, instantly, all of them, across the land, that death was here. It had come for them. Melodramatic, yes, but from my limited perspective, in conditions such as that, in a life such as that, melodrama would be the order of the day. In houses made of stone, melodrama is not even melodrama any longer. So the sound of an earthquake, while distant, almost instaneous, would have to have been heard. A familiar sound, I'm sure.

But part of me insists otherwise. I would like to believe that in their final moments on this earth something else was going on, taking place, coming to fruition, something other than a heart beating faster and a snap, grim realization that prayer was necessary, now, immediately. They knew they would be dead, or maimed, or injured. They knew that. But in that moment, when the land started to rumble, when the stones started to fall, I imagine a touch of a hand on the edge of a shoulder. That's all. A tiny, almost imperceptible gesture from mother to son, father to daugther, wife to husband, grandfather to stranger. Somebody was touched in that final moment. The gap that exists from you to me and they to them was breached in a final, futile attempt at eternity. Each knew what the other meant. They may have even been looking at each other, directly, without judgement. That would have been nice. And yet the touch is what matters. When the earth opened up all was lost, yes, forever, certainly, but one would like to imagine an exit from this realm that left the lingering remnant of contact, however brief. To think: that some were able to take that touch with them. Amidst the dust and the shrieks and the rocks stained red, no trace of such a touch remains, true, but how could it? There are some things eternity claims for itself.

4 comments:

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Christa said...

Wow, that was beautiful. It's a nice way to try to think about the way those people spent their last moment.

Lana said...

I agree, a beautiful post, Scott. It makes me think of Pompeii, where people were actually frozen in time, in the ash of Mt Vesuvius, and their embraces, their intimate final moments, can still be seen today. Haunting.

Craig said...

I remember watching an earthquake when I was in grade school forty some years ago. I was waiting for the bus which I could see coming half a mile up the road, but before the bus arrived I saw something else coming across a five acre farm field full of cucumbers. The ground was rippling, just like a series of ocean waves breaking onto a shore. The bus arrived about thirty seconds after the waves subsided. Noone on the bus had felt anything, but for those of us waiting at the stop it was unforgettable. Solid ground is pudding when the Giants in the Earth go for a stroll.