Change of plans


It’s been like this all week.On Tuesday, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck without warning, heaving and bucking the eastern United States for as long as it liked. And it left only when it felt like departing.

We had nothing to do with the earthquake’s coming or going. Hurricane Irene comes uninvited, too. Whether she leaves death and devastation in her wake is up to her. Not to us. Let’s hope she will be kind.

This week’s earthquake and Irene are both natural events far beyond our control. So what if the business day, classroom, and affairs of government were disrupted? The earth had to shake.

So what if the president of the United States and 250,000 visitors had grand weekend plans in Washington? So, apparently, does Irene. She, like the earthquake, must have her way. This leaves the rest of us to do our best to minimize the damage. We can, in time, and sometimes at great expense, repair. But we cannot stop natural calamities from happening.

Oh yes, and we can — no, will — inevitably carp about and second-guess the precautions taken and the official responses to these events. We must beat up on somebody. But — and this part may be hard for some of us to handle — we have to accept the fact that we simply are not in charge. I think that’s a good thing. This hurricane, that earthquake, the next disruptive non-man-made event, reminds us that we are only human, not gods; that we don’t get to have the last word on everything; and that despite our individual strengths, separate interests, different capabilities and goals, that when it comes to grappling with calamitous events, we are all in this together.

That wasn’t a Democratic-induced earthquake on Tuesday. We aren’t confronting a Republican-inspired hurricane. Barack Obama’s standing in the polls or his handling of the economy have nothing to do with tropical cyclones forming in the western Atlantic. And Republicans, despite their show of potency in congressional politics, are unable to produce shaking and trembling of the earth.

These events ought to be humbling. That’s not to say we should throw up our hands and prostrate ourselves before the land and sea around us. It is our fundamental disposition to want to conquer and control. But we shouldn’t be so arrogant to think that we can engineer any and all things in the universe.

“All kingdoms end in dust,” I read today. And so it is with cathedral spires, national monuments and other, less-meaning-filled buildings around us. Hard to take? Maybe. But it’s the truth. Another truth: Events like earthquakes and hurricanes can concentrate the mind. Let’s hope we concentrate on the right things.

Relationships, for example. Stop taking them for granted. A little introspection would be worthwhile, too. Are you having a well-lived life? Martin Luther King Jr. was only 39 years old when a gunshot took him away. But in his brief ministry he changed the course of the nation.

You don’t have to do that. But a well-lived life should include having done something to make life better for someone else. Anyway, calamities can get you thinking this way. The next step, of course, is doing.

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