I carry the Disaster Dead with me always: Okawa’s precious children, lost to the waves; Pompeii’s huddled masses, lost to the ash; Titanic’s frozen passengers, lost to the cold. And more, so many more taken by pandemics, hurricanes, heatwaves, earthquakes, wildfires, famine. The burden of their unnecessary deaths is a reminder of the necessity of knowledge. Knowledge empowers the uninformed. Knowledge prepares the vulnerable. Knowledge saves lives that might otherwise fall to preventable, or at least mitigable, forces. There are no natural disasters, after all, only natural hazards exacerbated by human action – or inaction. Okawa’s children did not have to die within reach of high ground. Texans did not need to freeze in their homes. The west coast does not have to burn every summer for longer and longer periods until “fire season” becomes a meaningless phrase.
The Disaster Dead are also a reminder of my own self-ordained responsibility to ensure the people of my homeland do not share a similar fate, that we do not doom ourselves to repeat the past simply because we refuse to learn from its most painful lessons. What else can soothe the wailing of the Disaster Dead? What else can truly honor their memory? Never forget is a trite, passive promise when our historical knowledge stretches back thousands of years. We never forgot the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, but what good did that do us in 2020? Never again is the promise we must make and uphold as a global society. Never again should we allow greed to outweigh the common good. Never again should we ignore experience or science in favor of ignorance. And never again should we allow the loss of lives we could have saved with care, dedication, and preparation.
I carry the Disaster Dead with me always. Some speak louder than others, and some may have come to me sooner, but I carry them all. I mourn them, I honor them, and I try my best to uphold my vow to them – never again.
Deathwork and the Preservation of Life
I had one of those “oh my god, DUH” epiphanies the other day. I was thinking about my increasing call toward deathwork and how that’s reflected in my life. In some ways it makes perfect sense: I was always that weird kid who was a little too obsessed with morbid historical events like the sinking of the Titanic and the cataclysmic fate of Pompeii; all of the gods I follow have ties to death or the underworld; and my own life has been touched by death in many ways. On the other hand, I have never felt any desire to go into forensics/criminology, mortuary sciences, end of life care, or other death-related career fields. I’m happy in emergency management and I have no plans to leave this field. That must mean I’m not really a death witch, I thought. If I was a legit death witch, I’d feel driven to become a mortician or a coroner or something… right?
Then it hit me. My passion career-wise is emergency management and in emergency management your top priority is always preservation of life. And isn’t preservation of life just the opposite side of the deathwork coin? Aha! Death itself is inevitable for all living creatures, true, but many deaths are entirely preventable given the right mitigation and response measures. Every day I do work that will hopefully save lives in the future when Washington state faces its next major tsunami. I do this work in honor of those who have faced similar fates, especially those who lost their lives in the 2004 Indian Ocean and 2011 Japanese tsunamis. Now I realize that by working to prevent unnecessary deaths, I’m filling a necessary role in the greater field of deathwork. It’s a small role, obviously, but I’ve never minded being one cog in a greater machine. What matters is that lives are saved.
When I told my wife about this stunning revelation, she predictably stared at me with her trademark blank expression and asked flatly, “Wait, this just occurred to you?”. Which, fair. It really was quite obvious but I’m known for not connecting the dots when it comes to what’s right in front of me. I just never made the connection that part of honoring death is preventing it when you can or that emergency management could play a significant role in this work. It’s proof to me that I’m on the right path and correctly interpreting the vague “feelings” that constitute my intuition. It also aligns with my most recent oracle reading which urged me to trust that the universe is working in unseen ways to guide me on my path. Point taken!
It won’t be like Sendai
But still, I feel beholden to them
Those 70 young lives lost to laxity
And if I let it happen here
If I let us fail our own children
We will have failed Okawa’s as well
There are no natural disasters
Only deaths we could have prevented
Lessons we refused to learn
Ghosts we carry with us forever and hope
To do right by
The school beneath the wave: the unimaginable tragedy of Japan’s tsunami – Richard Lloyd Parry
Watch: Tsunami’s devastating impact on Washington after potential 9.0 quake (Komo News)
You could call me a priestess of sorts, I suppose, albeit a grant-funded and state-employed one. I do spend much time preaching about my lady’s temper, teaching these arrogant mortals to respect the power of Cascadia and all her sisters. They sleep in a ring, you know, dreaming of fire and blood and occasionally waking to deliver death in broad swathes. Cascadia has been sleeping these past three hundred years but when she wakes again her wrath will sunder the earth and drown sin and sinner alike. (Such ancient forces as she hardly care what form their offerings take; it’s about quantity, not quality.) Though she cannot be pacified, still she must be revered. A little fear is necessary to grasp the immensity of Cascadia’s destruction when – not if – she stirs once more. The question is, will humanity heed the words of her clergy in time?
It’s late June and I’m cleaning out my desk… throwing away old papers… saying my goodbyes… but not because school’s out. It’s because…
I’m changing jobs!
See, for as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with disasters, both manmade and natural. I watched Twister religiously as a kid and was supremely disappointed that I was born eight years too late to witness the famous 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. If asked what historical event I would most want to go back in time to experience, I could never pick between the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of Pompeii. Pompeii would probably win out, though, because geology is the coolest of the hard sciences.
This is me as both a witch AND a geoscience major.
My obsession with disasters is formed of equal parts horror and fascination: horror because these events prove how quickly and completely our human-centric world can be reduced to rubble; fascination because their scale and power are frankly awe-inspiring, especially if you understand the forces at work. Disaster movies might take some scientific and artistic liberties, but they still offer insight into how fucking terrifying the earth can be.
I say all this because emergency management is my passion and finally, after six years in a different career field, I’ve found my way back! Starting this week, I’ll be working for my state’s Emergency Management Division as an Emergency Management Program Specialist to, and I quote, “provide professional level emergency management and public education assistance in implementing the statewide Tsunami/Earthquake/Volcano program.”
HOW FUCKING COOL DOES THAT SOUND??
They’re gonna pay me actual money to talk about natural disasters! And science! And emergency preparedness! Those are like my favorite things!! I’m just so excited that it almost doesn’t feel real. This is literally my dream job. I can’t even.
Actual footage of other people (left) versus me (right) during a disaster.