If news of the enormous August 2020 explosion of parts of the grain silos at the port of Beirut reached my eyes and ears, I do not remember. I suspect I never heard details of the catastrophe that killed more than 200 people, injured another 6,000-plus, and damaged entire neighborhoods all around the port. An article posted in August 2021 called the explosion “one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history.” Journalists who investigated the cause(s) of the explosion seem to have reached no conclusions, considering the circumstances surrounding the tragedy hidden and unknowable, thanks in part to what appears (from my perspective, at least) to be intentional withholding of information by people who should know and should share what they know. A judge, tasked with finding the cause of the original blast, has faced political opposition for bringing to justice people he believes are culpable for the explosion. The most common theories about the August 2020 blast suggest it was triggered by a smaller blaze that ultimately ignited a large store of ammonium nitrate—that is the same substance used in the bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I have seen videos of both the Beirut and the Oklahoma City blasts. The Beirut blast was, by far, the largest and most destructive. One theory is that exploding fireworks provided the mechanical trigger necessary to set off the huge ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut.
The 2020 explosion was in the news again when, on July 31, the northern block of the remaining silos collapsed in a monstrous cloud of dust after a weeks-long fire, ignited by grains that fermented in the summer heat. I watched a couple of videos of the most recent collapse, which sent smoke and dust billowing into the sky and which plunged nearby areas into darkness. But watching those videos and the ones I viewed of the original blast revealed that the recent blast was minor in comparison.
I watched the first nine minutes of a 25-minute investigative journalism video report on the 2020 blast. The video was interesting—really intriguing—but my mind is racing too much this morning to focus on that video for 25 minutes. I will return to it.
Is it just that I forgot about hearing news of such an incredible catastrophe or does news of monumental catastrophes from that part of the world no longer stun me, so that I easily forget about them? I suspect it’s the latter. Perhaps I heard about the blast but dismissed it as “just more distant, unpreventable chaos that does not affect me directly.” If so, that is embarrassing in the extreme; not just embarrassing, but sickening in its revelation that I might be able to dismiss enormous loss of life and homes as “somebody else’s problem.”
Yesterday, after I returned from my brief walk in the woods, I glanced through the front door’s glass. In front of the house, a doe and her young, spotted fawn, grazed at the roadside, oblivious to my gaze, fixed on them. A moment later, a buck—his regal rack of antlers tall and impressive—strolled into the picture. At about that time, I heard mi novia stir, so I called her in to see the spectacle. We spent several minutes watching those three deer and then an additional several more, including another buck, a couple of does, and at least one or two more fawns. I a grateful for the opportunity to live in a place so hospitable to forest creatures. And I am delighted to have the occasion, from time to time, to have the chance to view them clearly and in moderately “slow motion.” I feel the same sense of gratitude and delight when I sit here at my desk and at the breakfast table, looking through the windows as all sorts of birds take advantage of the seed feast we lay out for them on a regular basis.
Yet, in spite of my extraordinary good fortune, I sometimes feel utterly dejected, anxious…whatever the negative feelings that leave one feeling dull and spent and painfully aware of one’s inadequacies. In response to my expression of similar angst, several months ago, a friend wrote about advice he had received from a therapist—he had expressed his feelings that he had no right to complain about his depression, in light of the fact that his life was full of good fortune. The therapist compared the pain he felt to being scalded with hot water; the fact that an entire family somewhere else is fighting a losing battle against being burned to death in a housefire is irrelevant. His pain, the therapist told him, was his alone. Though that reality can sometimes make my emotions seem less absurd and less random, it also somehow makes it seem deeper and more real.
September 15-29. That’s the first two-week period I could find without commitments. The first period available for a lengthy road trip. But two weeks is not long enough. Two weeks is just a start. A month, at least, is what I need. A month to explore places that could sooth my soul. That may be a bit of hyperbole; but it’s not too terribly off the mark. I just may clear the decks, as it were, of obligations for an extended period of time. Refuse to be held hostage to a calendar and the calendar’s insistence that it should control me, not vice versa.
Promising too much can be as cruel as caring too little.
~ William J. Clinton ~
I hear a woodpecker attempting to tear my house apart. There’s nothing I can do. If I go outside, it will simply fly away, out of my reach. But it will return. Over and over and over, it will return. Nature does not care one whit about whether my house survives a woodpecker’s hunger or rage. I, alone, must stand up to nature (or the woodpecker), yet I have no power to reverse the course of nature. Pointless repetition, leading to an unknown and unknowable conclusion.
You think I’m not watching you. You’re mistaken. I watch. I watch constantly.