So Let’s Talk About Catastrophes

It would be stating the obvious to say that we’re all a bit broken-hearted these days. 

Tens of thousands of people are dead in Japan.  Christchurch is in upheaval.  Qaddafi is attacking his own people. House Republicans just voted to repeal millions of dollars in funding that provide contraceptives, HIV testing and cancer screening to millions of women.  The Wisconsin governor just removed all public workers’ collective bargaining rights.

I have been actively avoiding television and newspapers.  Looking at those photos fills me with such a deep sense of fear and sadness, I almost cease to function.  Hurricane Katrina and 9-11 were the same.  I remember taking my bike out for a ride along an empty prairie highway after I heard about the planes, wondering at how life could possible go on after something like this.  I made apple butter that day and stood over the stove stirring, oddly ashamed of myself.

Intellectually, I know that horrible, shocking things happen.  Such is the nature of life.  My parents grew up during a time when people actually built bomb shelters in their backyards because nuclear war was a real possibility.  Chernobyl happened.  The Great Depression happened.  Heidi Montag’s album happened.

But this knowledge doesn’t make the heartbreak any easier.  I’m sure most of us are struggling with a lingering sense of guilt that we are lucky enough to be alive and healthy.  Lucky enough that our main ‘problems’ are what to fix for dinner tonight, our slightly annoying co-worker and losing those last five pounds.

What can we do? 
Is there a right answer to this?  I suspect the only answer is to send our money and thoughts in the direction of those affected by these catastrophes.  In a few months, I might also pop down to Christchurch and do my best to spread my tourist dollars around to any and all businesses that are open.

How do you deal with catastrophe – ignore it? cry? get angry? get involved? donate and don’t think about it any more?



Sarah Von – thank you for this reminder that we all can help a little, and the acknowledgement that disaster IS really hard to think about. This is something that's always made me feel horribly guilty (how can I possibly go about my life, go to my globally pointless job, worry about money, get happy over jeans or kitties or Lykke Li [ahem: ] and buy chocolates while such atrocities are filling other people's lives?) and I have to to remember that, well, our brains really aren't meant for this kind of comprehension.

I'm going to take your lead, and I hope you make it to Christchurch and can let the rest of us know what you see.

Amy --- Just A Titch

I feel the same way; absolutely sick over the state of the world. I am trying to take that sadness and energy and turn it into something tangible (volunteering in my area, donating money) and also by leaving my world—the people and places I get to interact with—a little nicer with a good attitude and extra kindness. While we can't conquer the whole world and fix things, we do have a sphere of influence in which to do good.


i cry..and donate when i am able. my heart hurts for those who lost loved ones, whose homes are decimated, who need hope. i feel guilty and thankful to not be in danger (at the moment). and am terrified at what the future holds…because i will be moving to okinawa in a few short months.


I typically give money, give blood to red cross, and send positive thoughts. That said, I am feeling more and more that it is not enough – I think that I/we need a mind shift and to think of these as "our" problems! not something to feel bad about, but something that we can help to fix! Let 2011 be the year of doing (just slightly) more than we feel comfortable with and the global community will benefit!


First off, i heart your blog. So, big ups to you and what you're doing on here!

I'm not sure if you or your readers are familiar with a blog called Li'l Magoolie. But she lives in Christchurch, was affected firsthand and has set up a charity auction on her blog called Li'l Quake Appeal. If you have children, or know a few and like 'em, it has lots of cute stuff. And although most is child related, not all are.

Be well!


I hear SO many people claiming that all these disasters mean the world is nearing its end. That makes me incredibly nervous. Incredibly nervous.
I can't stand the thought of life ending before I've had a chance to even live. I haven't had the chance to finish college; get married; have a baby; make mistakes. But at the same time – I feel completely selfish for having these feelings. People that died in tragedies such as in Japan, or 9-11… some were in the very same place that I am. Young and not ready to die.
It makes it even more heartbreaking to hear about.
And I choose to ignore the newspapers and television. Maybe not the healthiest choice, but it works for me.

Zia Madeira

Thanks for the post. I'm feeling similarly right now. I agree with you lovely hearted people – we just need to do our best to make the world a nicer place to be in, every way we are able. We can make a difference so long as we don't lose perspective.
I deal with the guilt by having tremendous gratitude, knowing that at least I'm not wasting my good fortune.


Beautifully written post. I, too, have heard the "it's the end of the world" talk. These types of disasters (especially since 9/11) remind me to try and cherish every day. Enjoy my children and not complain about their noise; hug my pet and don't worry about the hairs he leaves on my sweater; take a few minutes to watch the sun come up or go down just to enjoy the beauty and serenity of it. Help those who need it when you can and try to appreciate all you have every day.
Thanks for putting up such a varied and enjoyable site.


By the way: try to do that 5K. The rush and feeling of satisfaction is remarkable. I did my first this past October. 🙂

Sarah R

I've had the chance to spend some time up at the Wisconsin protests, and it's been incredible to see.

Yes, it's disappointing that the bills passed, but the amount of public support and engagement that's come as a result of the protests has been incrediby moving.

AND – if you're still sad, why not check out a video of the dancing, "Newsies – Seize the Day" protesting flash mob my dance studio put on? 🙂


I've been living in Tokyo for a year, but just by chance I came back to the US the day before the earthquake occurred. It's been bizarre watching from so far away as my friends in Tokyo work to preserve energy, raise money, and give blood, and my friends further North have to watch as the rescuers searching for the people in their towns have to deal with freezing cold temperatures, snow, and frequent tsunami evacuations.

I'll be going back at the end of this month, but in the mean time I'm trying to raise money for Red Cross Japan and other organizations, but it never feel alike enough. I wish I didn't feel so useless.


I too like the rest of the world have been devastated by what appears to be out planets attempt to self-destruct and the guilt at being tucked up safe at home worrying about the most tiny of things.

Donations of money are of course one way we can help but as you say we have our thoughts as well. If any of you want to pass along messages of support to those affected you should check out this site: just knowing that the world is with them will make a huge impact on peoples lives especially as they start to recover from this horrible tragedy.

P.S – Adore the blog – brings a little ray of sunshine into my life each day 🙂


I try to keep an eye on the situation because I have friends in Japan.

As for everything else. I read about, talk about, and then send positive energy the way of the places. Nothing else a perosn can do when they don't have funds to donate.

I don't listen the the silly "It's the end of the world!" people because it just seems like a primative way of thinking to me. If every disaster was the end of the world, the world would have ended long ago. We just see it happen in "real time" now thanks to the Internet and other technology while 15 years ago we woud ahve read about it after the fact in the newspaper. It makes it seem way more real and scary to see it unfold in "real time".

I still beleive the world is a beautiful place and that there is a lot of good out there. I also try to focus on a lot of good things while keeping an eye on the bad.


I try my best to stay strong and generally unaffected by it, for the sake of my children. Especially now – we are stationed in Japan, people are panicking around us, and the deployment that was supposed to end this week has been extended indefinitely – we have no idea when we're going to see Daddy again. Freaking out is not an option. Losing control or getting pessimistic is not an option. Everything is fine, everything is normal, the suitcase next to the door isn't going to be needed, it's just there as a precaution. Everything is okay.

ashe mischief

After going through Katrina, whenever a catastrophe happens, I kind of shut down. I can't read the reports or listen about it. Because in reality… I went through it. I know that people thinking good thoughts didn't do much for me on an individual level. That donations & resources are nice, but only when distributed quickly & efficiently. At the time it happens, it's really a matter of mentally & emotionally surviving and reconnecting with your family… which I can't help them with. And I really hurt to think about others feeling that.


I usually shut down as well. It's so overwhelming. But I've been so inspired by two of my friends.

The first one has decided to fold 1000 paper cranes and have $10 sponsors for each one. It's a Japanese tradition that she decided to put to the best use possible. More information can be found here:

Another friend of mine was inspired by that project that she decided to do her own thing. She is crocheting quilt squares for a $1 each. More details here:!/notes/arielle-schaub/peace-quilt-for-japan/10150119948697121

What I love about both of these projects is they are both doing SOMETHING. Admittedly, neither of them are close enough to actually physically go help. But they knew they had to put the energy in thier bodies to use. Rather than shutting down, they are moving forward. And that's been the positive in all of this for me.


Hi Sarah,

I love reading your blog while procrastinating at the office. I share your feelings in the wake of this unbelievable catastrophe, perhaps the worst of our time. After I donated to the Japanese Red Cross, I stumbled upon this interesting and important article about donations during crises, in general, and specifically related to the current one unfolding in Japan:

Food for thought…


Eternal*Voyageur @ Venusian*Glow

There is lots of talk of donating, but what about prevention ? Like signing anti-atomic petitions. Using your voting rights wisely. Suporting the right people and companies through your shopping choices. For example I will be moving my bank account from one that invests in atomic energy to one that supports alternative energy sources.


I too can't stop to think about things without feeling overwhelmed.

I live in Wisconsin and am definitely affected by the goings-on here. I worry about my school district job. I am also going through a divorce after 5 months of marriage because my husband had an affair and subsequently gave me an STD (curable with antibiotics, but still humiliating and gross). On top of that, I have the worst flu I've ever had. I've lost 8 pounds in 3 days because I can't keep anything down.

My own personal situation— plus the natural disasters, financial crises, unemployment rates, and government collapses around the world— are enough to make someone want to give up on trying.


But I think that's how we rebuild the world. With the big things, of course–moving rubble and sending money and carrying the wounded and looking for bodies and setting up shelters–but also the very small things from a distance. Making apple butter and riding a bicycle in memory of the fact that we are alive, still and unavoidably and as a way of showing that we know what the dead and other affected have lost, and we won't take it for granted.


What a fantastic post, Sarah…you totally nailed how I'm feeling, about everything…desperate to help – somehow – but stuck.
And then guilty for my own daily melodramas.
We are all so connected…I guess giving what you can (money, prayer) is all any of us can do…xx


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