Best to avoid catastrophes

I recently watched a video online filmed from a car driving through one of the latest major wildfires in California. Maybe you saw it too. In the video, which is frightening and difficult to watch, you can hear someone in the car praying out loud for the ultimate safety of the passengers.

Often the significance of social conditions, economic hardship, and natural disasters don’t really cause alarm until it “hits home,” or until we are affected by such conditions directly. The family in the video was surrounded by flames and blinding smoke coming from both sides of the road. They did not know if they would make it out, whether they proceeded forward or tried to turn around. The video had a happy ending; the vehicle emerged from the lengthy engulfed stretch unharmed.

Prayer is a natural act in humans, I believe, so I am certainly not going to knock that. Whether the passenger’s prayer was a direct, emergency-911 communication to God, or more like a personal plea to her own willpower for the strength and perseverance to survive the hellish pass, it was an act that did not seem out of place or unusual. It’s the long-form version of Oh no, as in, please, not now, let there be a way out of this situation. We’ve all been there to various degrees on multiple occasions, and we often exclaim some version of that communication.

And when it’s not ourselves in danger, we thank our lucky stars just the same. Oh thank goodness that’s not me. Or, thank you, God, for keeping me from having to go through that. Sometimes we feel lucky to avoid someone else’s misfortune, and other times we are proud we managed to prevent ourselves from an ugly situation. We celebrate with a deep breath, just like we do when luck seems to be on our side.

Most adults have stupidly sent a text while driving, and looked up to see a guard rail rapidly approaching, or oncoming traffic, or a telephone pole, or a pedestrian. Let those be lessons not to take such careless and dangerous risks ever again.

Forest fires, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, droughts, and heat waves all have terrible, deadly consequences. We can’t prevent them, but there are many indications that these things are happening with greater frequency and greater intensity at least in part due to industrialized nations’ over consumption of fossil fuels and farm animals. Consumption of these things emits large amounts of methane and other gases into the atmosphere which likely results in more of these particularly severe natural disasters, where lots of people die, lose loved ones, or lose priceless possessions. Science supports that, which means evidence to the contrary is lacking.

Some pray that the frequency and intensity of these events will reverse and lives will be spared. Who can blame them for doing so? But we also have willpower. Responsible drivers might think they can avoid accidents while texting, but we put our phones out of reach while driving anyway. Why take the risk?

Like driving and texting, which is now illegal but still easy to fall into a habit of doing, we need to make an effort to change our habits. If our actions only impacted ourselves, it would make sense enough for our own good, but since our actions impact others, it really ought to be a natural response to take action into our own hands. We’re not helpless in this situation.

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I have been a teacher in Maine schools for twelve years, and a writer and musician since childhood. I acquired a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a Certificate in Math Leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife, Erin, and my dog, Sally, in Bowdoinham.