Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Keep a Candle Burning

"Mother Nature has devised her own plans for the planet and those plans certainly do not involve a consideration for the longevity of mankind." 

We go about our daily lives, strolling through front doors into the shelter of our comfortable homes, preparing meals in kitchens equipped with running water and refrigeration, and sending our kids off to modernized schools. But when disaster strikes, the things we take for granted can be disrupted for weeks, months, or maybe even years on end. I think about that a lot, probably more than I ought to, but then again I live in California where the possibility of a seismic event is a matter of not if, but when.

Two years ago when we trekked in Nepal, you better believe I sized up our lodging knowing that the relatively young Himalayas owe their very existence to the crashing of tectonic plates. In Kathmandu, our hotel room on the fourth floor gave me a false sense of security. If there’s an earthquake, I reasoned, we may be able to survive the crush of a falling building since we’re staying on an upper floor. But as recent graphic videos and photos of the Nepalese earthquakes reveal, we are nothing but toothpicks that will snap beneath the inescapable weight of tumbling walls.

Mother Nature has devised her own plans for the planet and those plans certainly do not involve a consideration for the longevity of mankind. All sorts of catastrophes wipe entire communities off the map and in spite of ourselves, there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. Oh sure, we can shore up our buildings, our highways, and roads, but when cities rebuild, like New Orleans did after Katrina, there’s no guarantee. When the cycle repeats itself, be it hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods, some urban centers will again suffer setbacks leaving the rest of us to shake our heads and wonder why.

It could be years before Nepal returns to any sense of normalcy, yet I have nothing but the utmost faith in the resilience of the Nepalese. Even in the face of despair stories surfaced about how, in spite of meager rations and looming uncertainty, meals were offered to rescuers arriving with earthquake relief. Life is and has always been characteristically difficult in remote mountain villages where porters transport life’s basic necessities up impossibly steep trails for lack of roads. Although the earthquake destruction is widespread, incomprehensible in fact, over time people will slowly trickle out of tent shelters into their reconstructed homes and children will begin returning to their newly built, relocated schools.

Life will go on in Nepal, just as it has in tsunami-ravaged Phuket, Thailand, or in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where the death toll surpassed 200,000, or  in Joplin, Missouri flattened by a deadly tornado in 2011. The key factor is to never forget the places and people who have been dealt the ominous blow. As my news feeds and stories already begin to diminish about the clean-up mission in Nepal, and people go back to strolling through their front doors into the shelter of their comfortable homes, I’ll make sure to keep a candle burning in memory of those less fortunate than me.

This essay is a reprint from May 26, 2015. Footsteps of Gopal, a memoir of my April 2013 Three Passes Trek, is for sale on All proceeds from the book sales are being donated to the American Himalayan Foundation to support schools in the Everest region.

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