This has been one of those “it’s a small world” weeks, during which places I used to not think much about have now become important to me, since my sons have spent time there. On Monday, February 21, Matt’s former sergeant from Alpha Company died in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As platoon leader, Matt had worked closely with this man for over a year, until recently, when Matt was moved to a different position and ultimately to a different company. Although the sergeant was not included on the list of names for care packages (Matt only gave me names of privates and specialists, not officers), I remember Matt talking about what a good man he was. I can only imagine how the soldiers in his platoon must feel. The sergeant was twenty-nine years old; the reports say he died of non-combat causes and that medical investigations are underway. Matt put together a video tribute, which included photos of the platoon in happier days, scenes of the devastatingly beautiful countryside surrounding their outpost, and a soundtrack of the Army band playing Amazing Grace.
On the other side of the world, many of Isaac’s fellow scientists were thought to be in New Zealand when the earthquake hit, while others were stuck back at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, unable to fly into Christchurch to stow their polar gear at the USAP warehouse until the airport could reopen. In the meantime, the sun is setting in Antarctica, winter storms are moving in, and the ice sheet that forms part of the road to the airport at McMurdo is breaking up. Isaac told me there was a link to a chart in googledocs where people could add notes about those who had been confirmed safe. By Saturday, all USAP personnel had been accounted for and the link had been removed, but according to one of Isaac’s team members, three full plane-loads of people were still waiting to leave the ice before winter sets in, her boyfriend among them.
I have been obsessing about the earthquake victims and the polar scientists all week, in between feeling deep sadness for the sergeant’s family and fellow soldiers. As a result, I have not paid as much attention as I should have to all the wars and revolutions going on across the middle east and northern Africa, where many more people are suffering. Not to mention the protests in this country brought on by the attempts to do away with collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Since I don’t watch television, I’m not limited to what the mainstream media wants me to know, but that also gives me a skewed perspective, I’m sure, as I seek out only certain kinds of information, depending on my own personal interests and relationships. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of such large-scale natural and human-made disasters. And yet, part of me can feel an odd sense of detached interest, as though I were viewing Earth from some distant satellite, able to sense the plates moving beneath the ocean floor, the volcanos spewing forth steam, the waters rising, islands disappearing, the ice caps melting; noting the lines drawn in the air by planes flying from city to city, seeing people massed together in cities all over the globe, wondering what’s going to happen to us all.
Still it is quiet and peaceful here, with yesterday’s snow melting off the trees and falling softly into the woods, birds visiting the feeders and searching out places to build their nests, daffodils and hyacinths starting to push their way out of the ground, buds swelling on the trees, brocolli seeds sprouting under the lights in the back room. I wish everyone all over the world could enjoy this sense of peace. I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I also know that none of us will get out of this alive.