Service of Relative Disaster

March 14th, 2011

Categories: Nature, Positive Thinking, Relative Disaster


When disaster strikes, acknowledging others who are worse off seems to help.

A dear friend was deathly ill. As her condition became increasingly dire, she pointed out that at least she wasn’t as bad off as two other people we knew. Though she was sick for a very short time and died first–they shortly afterwards–it seemed that with each diagnosis, knowing about others in horrendous physical and in their case, economic, shape helped shield the blow of her bad news.

People ask us about the condition of our house and grounds after a destructive ice/rain storm last week. By comparison to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, our damage is like comparing a broken fingernail to a death. The storm has dramatically changed our landscape and repairs are invading our pocketbook, but we are safe, lost no friends or relatives and we suffered from no consequences such as fire or radiation. We’re poised for cleanup.

icestormaftermath2011flagstsmall1Three-inches of rain turned to ice, combined with high winds conspired to suck majestic 100 year old trees out of the ground as a child might pull posies out of a field of wild flowers. The trees smashed fences and light poles and along with ruts made by transitory rivulets, the grounds are pockmarked by inches-deep silt that formerly held flagstones in place. You can’t walk on the flagstones or you’ll break them further and probably fall: They are perched in air and remind me of a bad dental job. Four days without electricity gave work to the furnace company; the septic folks and backhoe man join the arborist to get checks.

icestormaftermath2011siltsmallAlthough there is nothing we could have done to protect the grounds, I nevertheless feel sad that under our watch, they have suffered. I feel responsible for them, but as we sometimes forget when we continuously see extraordinary miracles of medicine and technology, we can’t control nature.

As we keep up with the news from Japan, even as we admit we’re shaken, we remind ourselves how lucky we are. In fact, a teenage tree planted in memory of our nephew survived quite well. And while we attend to healing the grounds, we have friends whose children, spouses, parents or friends are urgently ill.

When misfortunes or worse strike does it help you to think of others who are worse off?


5 Responses to “Service of Relative Disaster”

  1. Judy P. Said:

    This may sound Pollyannaish, but I find something constructively humbling in disasters like yours and the periodic earthquakes, eruptions, etc., which occur.

    Humans have an arrogant habit of taking their supposed superiority over their surroundings for granted.

    I do not like seeing anyone suffer, but a reminder that Nature is our master and benefactor, and not the other way around, is good medicine for anyone’s ego.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am appropriately humbled.

    I joked with someone that the only way to have protected our property would have been to have built a dome over it and apart from being prohibitively expensive and no doubt illegal–as we don’t live in the commercial part of town–it would have looked horrible, eliminating the whole purpose of having it in the first place: To protect the natural beauty of the country!

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    I admire and agree with the wisdom of the observations in this posting. Although news of graver disasters does not alleviate one’s own suffering, the inevitable contrast and comparison can serve to put things in proper perspective.

    We are sometimes told that suffering is to be viewed in terms of the perception of the sufferer. However, the magnitude of greater disasters can serve to distract in some fashion from oneself and perhaps help realign values and consequently offer relief.

  4. Lucrezia Said:

    Disasters of various magnitudes are unwelcome guests in most lives, and it is for each person to find a way out. Listening to and trying to help others in worse jams than I, in the ’70s helped emotionally during an especially trying situation. The idea appeared to be unique until hearing from many others who resorted to the same technique with as many results as there were people.

    A first step is to realize that bad things happen, not to take it personally, and that the job at hand is to work ones self out of the situation. Often that activity alone keeps one busy and ones attention productively focused on extraction from a deep hole. Most bad events take on physical and or financial aspects where solutions eventually are found in repairing the destruction. Now let’s consider the Japanese. How are they coping, since they appear to be the ones presently on top of the disaster scale!

    The realization of others misfortunes are greater than our own provides comfort in varying degrees, but is of little use unless accompanied by some form of self help.

    Dealing with death, that of others or with ones own is a subject by itself since it is faced by all. No exceptions. Some use religion to cope, and others are downright scared. Not a pleasant subject.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Beautifully put. The distracting aspect of thinking of others who are in worse shape may help soften the blow in tough times yet you identify another key point: don’t neglect self help that is crucial and also, in my opinion, the hardest part.

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