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  • We watch animated weather maps with their cartoon colors, shifting arrows, and graphic spirals that slow-waltz across oceans and landscapes.

    Like gods in the sky, we look down at NASA photos of sinister storms moving toward landfall.

    We get minute by minute reports of wind speed, humidity, rainfall, and unless you are right there, right under that big swirling mass, unless you are packing up your car, unless you are grabbing family Bibles and photo albums and filling suitcases with Legos and Beanie Babies and warm clothes for your kids, unless you are right there watching flood waters rise and cars and fences and trees tumbling down the river, unless you are right there, it can seem chilling but abstract, like a movie of some other planet, strangely devoid of personal meaning unless you will yourself, force yourself, to imagine your roof being ripped off, your furniture floating away and cold muddy water rising up to your knees.

    Weather has tragically become entertainment: another opening, another show, reality programming at its most macabre. OOOOO! Storm time!

    Remember those photos of a whole village full of Japanese trying to outrun tsunami waves, cascading like brown dragons through their streets?

    Mother Nature, in her Medea incarnation, has become the new Diva of destruction, Mozart's Queen of the Night.

    Those of us thousands of miles away have a hard time imagining what it must be like to be terrified, to flee for your life, heading into unknown destinations and uncertain futures.

    We send our prayers and even, in secret acts of micro-hubris, imagine that we might even be able to break up that cloud mass through the sheer force of our will power, and send that gigantic, spiraling storm system out to sea.

    We can hardly get our brains around the idea that windows in skyscrapers in New York and Tokyo could blow out and send huge sheets of inch thick tinted glass to shatter on the streets below.

    We can hardly imagine flooded subways, power out for days, markets empty, batteries sold out, and cities brought to a standstill.

    At such times of crisis, we tend to remember images from disaster movies, with weather as the ultimate Villain. Ultimately, It is hard not to feel helpless.

    The TV news, ever more greedy for more and more advertising millions, has turned weather into a lurid spectator sport for the world to watch, while people, houses and communities drown.

    Remember the flooding in Australia, in Thailand, in India? Remember the tornadoes that leveled whole communities in the Midwest?

    Weather has become a surreal video game, a Weather - World of Warcraft, with commercial breaks for nachos and Diet Cokes. Oh, LOOK! There goes a train into the river! OMG, that tugboat just hit the marina! And the levee is coming apart!!! And the networks play the worst clips over and over and over again.

    I find all this profoundly disturbing, the way we have become distant, addicted observers of earthquakes, floods, storms, fires, and worst of all, wars. It seems there is a collective disconnect these days in the face of chaos. Remember Mr. Gibbon, who chronicled the lust for cruel spectacles while the Roman Empire crumbled?

    While. The. Roman. Empire. Crumbled.

    Have we become Romans, needing greater and greater horror shows to feel even small sparks of life in what may be our final days?

    In spite of the compassion we may feel, in spite of whatever contributions we can make to disaster relief, in spite of the prayers we pray and the candles we light, and the memorial services we attend, in spite of all this, are we becoming simply ongoing voyeurs and hypnotized spectators of these numbing events that now populate our screens, our minds, and our nightmares? Distracting us from the real issues, the real needs in our families, communities and countries?

    Doesn't our world need good news more than ever? Don't we need stories of courage, heroism and compassion? Don't we need to wake up from our collective cultural trance of fascination with violence, horror, and apocalyptic destruction? Where can we start? Here?

    "But will we wake, for pity's sake? But will we wake?" (Christopher Fry in Sleep of Prisoners)
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