Gratitude, Giving, and Growing: The Lasting Lessons of Tsunami

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The horrific Tsunami of 2004 shifted parts of the earth, wiped out islands, and forever reshaped coastlines. The tidal wave destroyed lives and wiped out entire communities. Buildings disappeared and wealth vanished. Children were orphaned, women widowed, and twins separated. In the blink of an eye, a life-feeding ocean became a weapon of mass destruction, with no targeted enemy and no compelling reason or strategy for total destruction. The enemy was quite simply anything and everything that came in the way of the unstoppable wave. Death came unexpectedly and took what it wanted, shamelessly, heartlessly, and relentlessly. It was a game of Russian roulette and so many lost their lives simply because, and only because, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was as simple as that and as cruel as that.

When tragedy strikes anywhere in the world, Americans instantaneously respond with, “How can I help?” As a nation, we set aside our political differences, religious views, cultural reservations and simply set out to do all the good we can in all the ways we can as quickly as we can for as many victims as we can. Our grief is profound and sincere and we dig deep into our pockets and give whatever we can. In the minds of many Americans, service is also a currency without denomination. Service to our fellow beings is deeply embedded in our national psyche. It is the American spirit, regardless of how you got to be an American. The outpouring of support for the Tsunami victims therefore comes as no surprise as the world has experienced the generosity of our great countrymen so many times that it has almost come to expect it.

Unfortunately, the tragic effects of the Tsunami will be felt for generations to come.  Anguish and agony will likely be the constant companions of Tsunami victims for several decades as they continue to experience and relive the terror and trauma of the destruction they felt on that fateful day. Horrific and tragic stories will become part of the folklore, laced with grief and shock. Rebuilding the lives of four to five million people displaced by the Tsunami is not simple, linear, or clean. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted or the impatient. It will demand sustained economic prowess of nations and the financial generosity of individuals to rebuild communities, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is to nurture this spirit of caring that has swept our nation. The hard part is for each of us to be grateful and to give and to grow from this experience every single day for the rest of our lives even as the Tsunami becomes a washed memory. The hard part is for us to resolve to be better human beings because we feel lucky; because we know we are lucky. That is the real challenge.

Tragedies spur a spirit of generosity in most of us because it reminds us of our many blessings. For a brief fleeting moment, we don’t take things for granted. For a brief moment we imagine the unimaginable: it could have been our loved ones that were washed away by the Tsunami. We realize how lucky we are as we watch our children surrounded by abundance, while a child in another corner of our world looks into the eyes of a stranger hoping to find love and security. We ask ourselves what we did to deserve such goodness. We realize the importance of being grateful for each and every blessing: small and large, each day, without fail.

Gratitude is the seed of generosity. When we are grateful, we look for ways to share our blessings and give from our well of abundance, small or large. Gratitude stirs in us the realization that giving strengthens our blessings. Any illusions about how richly we deserve the good things that come our way momentarily disappear. We realize the folly in our thinking that the less fortunate are simply not as smart or hard-working or talented as we are. Instead, we realize it could be our child who languishes on the sifting sands of a once angry ocean, that now calmly watches the drama of loss and grief unfold on its sands. Gratitude breeds generosity as gratitude without generosity is lifeless and soulless.

After 9\11 many people vowed to slow down their pace of life, spend more time with the family, and be less petty. After the Tsunami tragedy many of us reflected on our lives and did some soul-searching. Unfortunately, for many of us, our grandiose resolutions to grow to be a better person get washed away when life and its vagrancies interfere. The best gift we can give to the victims of any tragedy is to be grateful for what we have, to share what we have, and to grow in deep and lasting ways.

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