I’ve not much to say about the horrific disaster in southeast Asia. It’s all been said.
What makes it real for me is that I’ve been to a lot of those places. I spent months in Thailand in the late 80’s and have vacationed in Phuket twice (note to media talking heads: it’s pronounced “p-hoo-ket,” not “fooket”). I’ve sunbathed and swam the waters of Patong Beach. I was even there over a Christmas holiday, 1990.
I once enjoyed a delightful stay of a few days in Penang, Malaysia. Passed through Bangladesh a couple of times. Not so great, that. Spent several days in Jakarta, Indonesia in about 1988. It’s on Java, not Sumatra, but you get some sense of the country and its people.
While transiting the The Malacca Straits by ship between Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, I recall standing on the bridge wing watching the eastern coastline of the enormous jungle island of Sumatra go slowly by. Later, on our way to the Persian Gulf, we stopped briefly in Sri Lanka to refuel.
It also turns out that a cousin of mine, an expert rock climber and mountaineer, with whom I just visited two weeks ago at our Christmas party, was scaling a rock cliff on or near Phuket when the tsunami hit. We have word that he and his companions escaped unhurt.
Thank God for that. But then, who could possibly believe in a literal, “intelligent” God after something like this? This, this is real and there’s not a fantasy man can conjure up in his head that makes this particular reality one less bit rotten than it is. But God does exist, nonetheless. Do you know where? He exists in the form of "stingy" Americans and Europeans now gladly donating to the tune of many millions of dollars (apart from what governments are doing). He exists in the form of the thousands of patriots and ex-patriots on the scene in each of those countries lending a hand–to both dignify the dead and aid the survivors. God is much closer than we think.