But I have already watched this scene. The only difference is that this was not a movie. This was real life.
There were no special effects being used here. There was no genius or computer wizard manipulating my senses making me believe that layers upon layers of images can simulate the unthinkable. What I was seeing was the unthinkable. The unfathomable. And later on, when everything becomes clearer and the emotions have somewhat settled, I realized that what I saw was the unspeakable.
We were right in the middle of work when everything froze.
On the other end of the make-shift tv studio, there were monitors connected to CNN and the local news telecast. Someone announced that an 8.9 earthquake hit Japan. We had not yet recovered from the anxiety of the catastrophe in Christchurch, New Zealand ... and now here was another one.
Here was a bigger one.
What was happening? Yes, earthquakes occur in various spots of the globe. But never this frequent. Never was it this close to one another. A matter of weeks. Jump-cutting from Chile to China then to New Zealand then to Japan.
We were stupefied, unable to focus on the work that needed to be accomplished that afternoon.
We were not clear about the details --- as to whether or not Tokyo was badly hit. But later it was ascertained that the epicenter was offshore in the northeastern portion of the island country.
I tried to shut off my brain when discussions in the studio veered towards the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Philippines is very much in that much-feared circle that borders the Pacific Ocean ... from Chile going all the way up the West Coast of the Americas, up there to Japan and then all the way down to New Zealand. And an enumeration of these countries meant a tabulation of the nations badly hit by lethal quakes for the past year.
Earlier last Friday afternoon, before we started rolling the tape for our show, we were discussing the feature on the show "TV Patrol". The said segment of the newscast highlighted a warning from Japanese seismologists that the Philippines should prepare for "The Big One" that could occur any time now.
Of course people were scared off their underpants.
Of course people became listless and restless.
Talk about the "The Big One" in Manila has been going around for years, with ceaseless references to the active Marikina Fault Line. Of course people were not properly cautioned but merely provoked into various states of paranoia when the news show did such a feature, including a mapping out of areas in Manila most likely to be badly hit if and when the Big One hits us.
Oh, and it did not help that there was a prediction stating that thirty-four thousand people will die when the Big One hits Luzon.
Thank you all so very much. All in the spirit of precautiona and preparation, we were fed that kind of information after looking at flattened buildings and an entire city flattened in New Zealand.
Then came this Bigger One in Japan.
Then came the images.
What were we to think? How were we to react?
It was not enough to show slabs of concrete falling off buildings, pavements buckling and cracking into two meter deep holes, or office equipment flying off desks and shelves as the earthquake seemed to shake the living daylights from everyone. What lasted for a half a minute was an entire eternity to endure. And that was only from watching the videos.
What was worse was when we saw the aerial shots of the tsunamis literally crawling down the surface of the earth, eating everything that come on its way. Trucks, buses and houses looked like toys being swept by some evil and oozing syrup as it crossed from the seas down roads, bridges, rivers, fields ... toppling anything that came across its way.
These were scenes from science fiction movies. These were the stuff of summer blockbusters from Hollywood heralding the inevitable Apocalypse to come. But now even Hollywood was stupefied. The West Coast of the American continent was also on a tsunami alert. Reality proved to be more frightening than any twisted imagination or marvelous technology to enhance fiction. Real life still carried the far greater horrors.
So what were we to think?
That despite all the advancements of man's science and technology, despite the evolution of the human race through so many years of changes --- he still remains helpless when confronted by the wrath of nature?
That despite all the preparedness of Japan for earthquakes and tsunamis the events of the eleventh of March still left the nation shocked, shattered and literally in shambles?
I cannot help but be paranoid. If this same catastrophe should happen here in Manila, how would the government handle the situation? We do not possess the resources of Japan. We are more concerned with politicking and grandstanding rather than governance. We are more obsessed with our maladies of graft and corruption than to confront the scourges of nature. When Ondoy hit the country, there was confusion. And even to this day there remains so many questions as to why the water levels rose too quickly to completely submerge the low-lying sections of the Metropolis leading to countless deaths and damage to property.
Ah, but all this seems to moot and academic. Something much greater is being said. The message is far greater than the pettiness of our fears ... or our overwhelming sense of loss.
The image of cars, trucks, boats and houses being swept by the tsunami miles away from the shore was not only disturbing ... but more so enlightening. For it reminded me of how insignificant and powerless we are in the larger scheme of things. For it hit me on the head to realize that we are like specks walking atop the surface of this planet --- and all it took was for the tectonic plates to jam against each other --- to create ripples that became monstrous walls of ocean water --- capable of destroying in seconds what man took years to develop, build and integrate as imperatives in his daily life.
All it took was a few seconds of portions of the earth's crust to jolt --- and an entire nation is devastated. As I write this, two million homes in Japan are without electricity, two nuclear reactors are threatening to go on a meltdown ... and literally hundreds and thousands of people are stranded, without food, unable to cope with the shutdown of the transport system or the collapse of their wireless communication. All it took was just a few seconds.
Nights have passed and I am still glued to CNN watching the coverage of the tragedy in Japan. And I have told myself that there should be a point when I should give up all this paranoia. Despite all the horrors unfolding before my eyes, I should not be afraid. We should not be afraid. For these are the givens that come with our first breath --- the fact that there are glories inasmuch as there are dangers that accompany each and every day of our lives.
And life indeed is all too fragile. For who would have thought that in an ordinary Friday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of lives were changed ... and all it took was just a few seconds.
That is all it really takes. But we cannot go on living by being afraid. We just have to go on.