I Felt the Earth Move Under My Feet

It’s been an eventful summer, all over this land. There were devastating forest fires and a prolonged drought in the Southwest, the Joplin tornado, catastrophic flooding of the Mississippi and its tributaries, an unusual East Coast earthquake, and now Hurricane Irene is working its way up to you, Maine. One is tempted to see a Purpose or Divine Guidance – surely this concatenation of calamities cannot simply be chance. However, chance is all it is. Unusual events sometimes come in twos or threes or fours or fives. Think about this: There are three hundred million people in this country. Therefore a once-in-a-million event will occur three hundred times on any given day. In China, a once-in-a-million event will happen twelve hundred times. This year has not been particularly remarkable for its cataclysms.

When they think of devastating hurricanes most 21st Century Americans immediately think of 2005 and Katrina. The Gulf Coast was certainly pummeled that year, and not just by Katrina. Hurricanes Dennis, Emily, Rita and Wilma were also behemoths. As bad as the 2005 season was, it was just a chance grouping of hurricanes in one season and Katrina was eclipsed by several 20th Century storms, such as the 1926 Okeechobee Hurricane, the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, Camille in 1969, and Allen in 1980.

I am not superstitious, or I would be afraid to make this observation, but 2011 has so far not proven itself unusual in the disaster department. This is not to discount the fear, pain and misery of folks involved in one of this year’s calamities. My heart goes out to friends in Texas and the Southwest, along the East Coast and in the Mississippi River flood plain. For their sake, and for all our sakes, I hope 2011 will not find it necessary to distinguish itself for the severity of its meteorological and geological events. However, if a series of natural cataclysms rivaling the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami hits the earth between now and New Year’s Eve, it will not be because the year became sentient and wanted to make a name for itself. It will also not be the punishment of a supreme being for licentiousness of one sort or another. It will be because bad stuff just happens.

Consider our fragile habitat on the surface of a rock weighing 66 sextillion tons screaming through space at 60,000 m.p.h. We are less than fleas on an elephant’s back. If the elephant gives the tiniest shiver, our flea buildings fall down on our heads and we die in the thousands or millions. If the elephant stands out in the rain, whole populations of us fleas drown. The lightest breeze across the elephant’s rump blows away entire countries of fleas. It is not amazing that some of us get wiped out in devastating natural catastrophes every year. It is amazing that we survive at all.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2011 John B. Payne, Attorney

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