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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

An idle mind is a dangerous thing...

Until yesterday I was unable (or unwilling) to allow my mind to do any serious contemplation of the recent natural disaster in South East Asia. From the first reporting that began to trickle in from the devastated countries, I began to have a terrible feeling about how I was processing the information.

There seemed to be a sick part of my subconscious mind that was morbidly excited each time the death toll doubled and then doubled again. This was no ferryboat capsizing in Bangladesh, or an exploding volcano on some sparsely populated South Sea island.

No, this was history I was witnessing… the kind of event that ones grandkids ask about when they learn about it in their history class… 50 years from now! And it seemed that some part of my mind wanted numbers that could stand the test of time.

As much as I immediately loathed myself for having experienced this voyeuristic thrill, each time I heard the death toll being revised ever higher I couldn’t push away from that self-congratulatory thrill at having my personal timeline coincide with a truly historic event.   

Wasn't it Stalin who said "The death of one man is a tragedy.  The death of millions is a statistic."?  Well, my sick little mind was having too good a time with these 'statistics'.

And so, because I was so revolted with my inner ghoul, I stopped watching any coverage of the tsunami or its aftermath.  I put up a big fence around the topic and refused to give my mind further access to it! No ifs, ands or buts!

But the mind is a funny thing. You can cut off all information… sever all ties with an offending source… fill your life with perfectly suitable things to occupy your imagination… and your mind will decide to do exactly as it damned well pleases.

Yesterday, on my way back from meetings in the north, I was driving through a torrential downpour in Haifa. The thunder and lightning shattered the late afternoon at frequent intervals and I drove carefully through standing water that reached the car’s doors. I was warm and dry inside the cocoon of my company car, and my iPod was serving up a pleasant selection from my ‘Early 60’s’ playlist.

The result:  For several hours my mind was left unsupervised.

Bad. Very bad!

This morning I woke up from a horrible dream about thousands of bloated corpses floating in the lagoon of Gilligan’s Island. And I immediately knew why.

My mind had used the stormy drive time to free-associate through its messy little card catalog of topics and words related to the forbidden subject. It had played its own little game of ‘Taboo’ during the long drive, and had blindly inched its way towards the illicit topic the way one might creep towards the fuse box immediately after a blackout.

As best as I can figure out, the free-association probably went something like this:

It’s cold and wet outside the car windows… Look at that poor guy walking without an umbrella or raincoat in this downpour… I hope he doesn’t have too far to go to get out of this messy weather… Oh! Bad luck… he just got soaked by a passing car… Good, traffic is moving nicely now, I’m on the coastal highway south of Haifa… Wow, look at the beach and the waves… the highway is literally right on the beach… Look at the palm trees along the water… they are really getting blown around… Hey, wasn’t there an episode of Gilligan’s Island where the palm trees along the lagoon were being blown like that?… Hmmm… maybe it was the opening credits ("The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed…")… No… That only showed the boat at sea… there must have been an actual episode that showed a storm on the island… I’ll bet if this were Southern California there would be surfers out there enjoying the storm…Wait, there WAS an episode of Gilligan’s Island with a surfer!… Oh yeah, right, the one where the surfer catches an enormous wave from Hawaii and makes it all the way to the Island… and he ends up catching the same kind of wave off of the island (but hits his head and gets amnesia so he forgets about the castaways!)… Now I remember… that’s where I learned the word for those huge waves… ‘tsunamis’... cripes, I learned more important stuff from ‘The Professor’ than I did from any of my teachers back then!… Oh good, it looks like the rain is letting up a little bit…

And just like that my mind found a way under the fence I had built around the topic. But it didn’t shout "Ah HAH! Look what I did!!!" No, instead it waited until I was fast asleep and then started trashing the joint.

The result: I woke up with a lagoon full of bloated bodies and the realization that I could no longer hide from the subject.

Well, I can take some small comfort in the fact that I was able to hold off confronting the topic for almost three weeks. At least now I can sit down and read real accounts from real people who were actually there, rather than the various network ‘talking heads’ trying desperately to keep their remote-control-wielding viewers from clicking away to somebody else’s coverage.

Now it is no longer ‘news’. The ink is starting to dry, and as I suspected it would; the event is starting to harden into something very much resembling history.

OK, History I can handle.

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Posted by David Bogner on January 19, 2005 | Permalink

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I can really relate. There's some part of my brain that wants to see extreme events, maybe it makes them more real - or now that I think about it, maybe it makes them less real.

But it does help to read the stories of the people who were there, in their own words.

Posted by: Beth | Jan 19, 2005 6:28:16 PM

I was pretty horrified and sad two weeks ago when I first read the stories and saw some of the videos. There are some tourist videos that convey the horror very well without being too graphic. Each story is terrible and then to multiply those stories by hundreds of thousands is just mind numbing. Our site had links to some of the stories/pictures/videos. Let me know if you want me to find them for you.

I wish you sweeter dreams.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jan 19, 2005 9:27:05 PM

It is a hard thing to wrap your head around. For me the toughest part was related to the children, it so hard to hear/read some of those stories.

Posted by: Jack | Jan 19, 2005 11:46:30 PM

As I've mentioned on my blog, a friend of mine and her hubby narrowly missed being at one of the resorts that were destroyed. Another friend of mine was not so lucky. She lost a classmate in the tsunami and a colleague is still missing and presumed dead.

It's tough to wrap your head around regardless, but even more so when it hits close.

May your future dreams be less traumatic.

Posted by: Carol | Jan 20, 2005 9:10:47 PM

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