tacloban is calling

November 12th, 2013

Surivor in Tacloban walks among the debris after Typhoon Haiyan

This message is not for the people of Tacloban. The people of Tacloban do not need any messages from me. They are completely engulfed in a reality that eclipses the linguistic coding of sentiment or solidarity. Send money if you can. No, this message isn’t for, but rather from the people of Tacloban, because in their horrific struggle for survival and security, they have sent a message to you. It is a message you don’t want, and that none of us is ready for.

Some people have a sudden glimpse of reality, a stroke of insight, an aha moment. They might strive for it a long time – travel the world, trek mountains, study the wisdom of sages. But that’s not the glimpse of reality that matters. The glimpse that can change your life is the sight of rubble and ruin – the truth that things fall apart. We see the evidence every day, but still, it’s a hard thing to wake up to.

There was that cloudless morning in early September when most of us – roused by the radio, a phone call, or a shuddering impulse – turned on our televisions and saw the impossible.  We saw a building buckle, and then, after a breathless half-second, a rushing crush of dust as one and then another tower disappeared in front of us – a Niagara of concrete, steel, desks, and doorknobs, everyday lives conjoined irretrievably in death, a plume of ash simultaneously rising and falling and haunting the gaping emptiness we could not turn away from.

One day after Christmas, the Indian Ocean stood to reach a resplendent sky and then tumbled forward into a bottomless blackness, swallowing the earth in one gulp, stealing the doomed from their innocent idylls and the sleepy ease of paradise – paradise! A whole population was snatched from the sheltering palms of a holiday while the rest of us still celebrated ours.

These things really happened. Of course, they happened to someone else.

There are a thousand tragedies no one knows about but you: the day the hospital calls, the accident happens, the letter arrives, and time runs out; the door slams, the brakes squeal, and the paperwork is signed. The day the rains flood, the pipes burst, the bones break, or the dinner burns. The day you lose your mind in a wild rage. The day you hurt someone.

We might think these days will end the way we spend our days – the way we worry and waste our days. We say they are wakeup calls. But do we really wake up? And what do we wake up to? Soon we forget, and go back to searching for the illusive comforts of a tamed and predictable world, one that doesn’t rise up without warning and defeat us every time.

Now, don’t tell me how you will die. Tell me how you will live.


This post was originally published on March 17, 2011 as Japan is calling.
It could have been May 20, 2013 as Oklahoma is calling.
Or Oct. 29, 2012 as New Jersey is calling.
Jan. 12, 2010 as Haiti is calling.
Aug. 29, 2005 as New Orleans is calling.
Someone somewhere is always calling you.

Photo: Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse—Getty Images

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  1. I try to wake up every day. Sometimes I have a second of wafefulness, sometimes even a whole minute. I live and die a hundred times each day. That’s my life. I am very lucky to have it. Your inspiring words encourage me to live some more.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — March 22, 2011 @ 3:48 am

  2. Thank you for your words, your wisdom, your way.

    Comment by Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities — March 22, 2011 @ 5:12 am

  3. Thank you Karen.

    Comment by Erja — March 22, 2011 @ 6:46 am

  4. Hopefully I will live with courage. I am afraid much of the time.

    Comment by L — March 22, 2011 @ 7:02 am

  5. Wonderful reminder, perspective, contemplation. Thank you.

    Comment by Amy — March 22, 2011 @ 7:49 am

  6. a wonderful sentiment. Thankyou

    Comment by Nicky — March 22, 2011 @ 7:59 am

  7. I arrange the flowers and write a poem.

    Thank you.


    Comment by ron miller — March 22, 2011 @ 8:28 am

  8. Mindfulness . It is what I need to be reminded to do everyday, every moment, until it becomes a part of my life like breathing…..

    Comment by Marcia — March 22, 2011 @ 8:29 am

  9. Turning towards the truth. yes.

    Comment by Gillian — March 22, 2011 @ 9:25 am

  10. The gulp in my throat, the knot in my stomache, all pointing to one thing – reality. The melancholy of life – so we should all remind ourselves and sit with the discomfort – for that is real life.

    Comment by Mike Blais — March 22, 2011 @ 11:27 am

  11. Wow,

    This sent chills down my spine and tears to my eyes. I am currently living in a broken city – Christchurch New Zealand. On 22nd February we were were hit by an earthquake that has destroyed many, many, buildings and killed over 100 people, the youngest being just 5 weeks old. Like anyone in this city at the time, my life changed in 20seconds of shaking.

    As a mother to a baby and toddler, I had got caught up in the negative mindset of motherhood – anger and resentment at the housework, lack of support, lack of “me” time etc etc. But my world was literally shaken that day. Luckily my family were safe and well, but the image of my 2yo’s train set crushed under a fallen cabinet reminds me of how easily things could have been different.

    I now truly understand “death comes unexpectedly”. In the past this thought was slightly disturbing, now it is an accepted reality to me – and an incentive to LIVE, here, now (in my still slightly messy, but happy household)

    To those in Japan, my heart goes out to you.

    Comment by Cath — March 22, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

  12. When my daughter Emma read about the 9 year old girl who was shot while attending a rally, I grasped at any words I could find…how do you tell a child about impermanence…I did my best…I said honor those who die by living….

    Comment by Eva — March 22, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  13. Thank you, Karen. Your words and thoughts have helped to change my life, this life, my daily life at home with my son.

    Comment by Amy Sugihara — March 22, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  14. It’s so true that these things happened “to someone else.” Things can seem so far away and I have been distancing myself from them even more because I can’t let myself give in to the helpless feelings and the grief. I have to live, as you say. I really appreciate all your words… your two books and the ones still to be written.

    Comment by Naomi — March 22, 2011 @ 5:52 pm

  15. Thank you, Karen. Beautifully put.

    Comment by Shana — March 22, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

  16. My wake-up moment came when we delivered our Brooklyn Grace, silent and still. And, you are absolutely right, Karen…those days of raw-nerve pain slipped into numb days that turned into sleepy days of the mundane. There is so much bliss in the mundane, even though it is always a house of cards.

    Well said, Karen…

    Comment by Cam — March 22, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

  17. i adored your mini-workshop for mamas…filled with gratitude to you for your tender and loving guidance back to right now and its ordinary magic. thank you.

    Comment by melissa — March 23, 2011 @ 4:55 am

  18. Yesterday, as projected, our rain turned to sleet & hail and then snow. I left my piano bench and watched the brave birds at the swinging feeders between the thrashing pine trees. I walked to the kitchen window where the 3″ crocus and tulips that I spotted just days before were again covered in snow. And I thought of my love driving 60 miles home on icy roads with those strong winds. All this on top of people suffering in Japan & Lybia & homes down my road was more than my heart could absorb. I began sending gentle T’ai Chi Chih(R) movements out into my yard and into the world and I found my voice singing, “How Great Thou Art”. The tears of release were uplifting and the world was a little brighter as I saw his vehicle turn onto our road.

    Comment by Mary A. Wichmann — March 23, 2011 @ 6:03 am

  19. beautiful.

    Comment by danette — March 23, 2011 @ 7:36 am

  20. Can there be tears of hope? Then what are those in my eyes now? Thank you for more poetry in the face of life.

    Comment by Jean Breheney — March 23, 2011 @ 10:10 am

  21. Gassho.

    Comment by Taizen — March 24, 2011 @ 8:20 am

  22. Thank you Karen. As I examine my life and my beliefs on verge of 50 you are light on the next step in the path.

    Comment by Rebecca Golightly — March 24, 2011 @ 10:48 am

  23. “But do we really wake up?” That’s it, and now I want to read more…

    Comment by Linda — March 24, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  24. I realized this week with more clarity (these awareness moments are rarely new, rather I’m more awake to a knowing I already had inside) something fundamental: I am deeply afraid to take full responsibility for all of my life, my self.

    Just now I got on your site for the first time in months (I met you in Portland last fall) and read this post and comments. I feel sadness. How can I accept that things fall apart? I feel fear. How am I going to live?

    So right now, with compassion for myself, I am going to close the computer and go inward to be with or “wake up” to that fear. I intend to notice how I hold it, what it feels like, how I am breathing, which way my energy is moving, what it feels like to let fear go for a moment, what arises in the space of letting go. As I write this, I see that in doing so, I will touch full ownership — of the moment. And that is where I can begin. Over and over.

    I will respond to your beautiful invitation (which was perfectly echoed in my reiki training today) to “come here now.”

    Comment by Amy Carlson — March 24, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

  25. Looking forward to the new book, thank you for your writing. Please never stop writing!

    Comment by leigh — March 25, 2011 @ 10:05 am

  26. Following my husband up a sand dune at the beach. It was windy, it was cold. I wanted the walk to be over and I was not enjoying myself. Not that much. His feet are bigger than mine and made nice imprints in the sand. Trying to keep up with his pace, I tried using his footprints as my own. I tried using his footprints as the path I needed to follow. They were too big and the sand had already shifted under his weight. I was slipping backwards more that I was moving forwards. I had to make my own way. It would be different than his. It would mean shifting back into the wind. I was using him as a windshield.

    There are times in our lives when it is appropriate to closely follow the steps taken by those before us. They have experienced things their own way and have passed their impressions down to us. We can learn from their challenges, their successes and from the direction in which they make their path. Thing is, these impressions are their own. Their feet are not exactly the same size, the same shape as our own. A step that was right for them may be too big or shifty for us. Our foot will simply slip in the imprint they have made in shifting sand.
    At some point we must follow our own two feet and the prints they make as we go. It is a silent moment when we come to realize that we are ready to make this first step. It is a moment of faith full of the realization that we are ready to fill our own shoes and make our own footprints in the sand.
    We must be our own teacher.

    Comment by samantha goodrich — March 26, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  27. #126 very nicely written Samantha, beautiful actually
    and true.

    Comment by Fred — March 27, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

  28. […] Karen Maezen Miller: Japan is calling. […]

    Pingback by Japan. And then some. — September 15, 2012 @ 7:32 pm

  29. Thank you!

    Comment by Jane — November 12, 2013 @ 10:07 am

  30. I wish there were better words than thank you Karen. But thank you…so much. Your words correct the steps I take off the true path, feed my soul better than any food item, and always, always strike a deep chord in my heart. A heart that is breaking today. And I don’t need to win a copy of the book…I will buy one!

    Comment by Kirsten — November 12, 2013 @ 3:45 pm

  31. I read this last night, this morning I woke up and I realised you are right. “Life does not happen TO you, life happens FOR you.” So now I am starting my day with that thought. Thank you.
    By the way I read a motto yesterday that has been blowing me away all day (yesterday): “I am my deepest desire.” That clicked on so many levels! That the first thing we ever wanted to be even before we had a body is ourselves! (And we all know how demeaning people can be about themselves).
    Have a wonderful day!

    Comment by Simone — November 13, 2013 @ 12:30 am

  32. Thanks for the reminder. Just donated and feeling good about it.
    Blessings on you and yours.

    Comment by Paul Brennan — December 5, 2013 @ 2:50 am

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