Our 5 year-old daughter is now totally into monster and superhero movies, and so we were watching The Return of the Mummy the other night. The scene where the reconstituted mummy, who has powers and shit, raises up the waters of the Nile into a monstrous wave with his open-mouthed face at its center in order to aquatically devour our heroes in their dirigible left me sweaty with discomfort at the thought of a real wave of similar magnitude and ferocity bearing down upon the coasts of the Indian Ocean.
Similarly, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Liv Tyler, in flight from the Nazgul with an injured Frodo in tow, conjures up a river wave with stampeding horses embodying the wave’s power. Such symbolism belies a deep need to personify and give intention to something so powerful as an all-enveloping wave — note that we speak of a wave as having a “face” — but I am virtually certain the Indian Ocean victims saw nothing but a wall of water, a wall generated by a sudden rupture along a fault where one tectonic plate rams against and below another (a “subduction zone”). The overlying plate spasmed upward more than 15 feet on December 26th, lifting the water above it and setting in motion the tsunami. There was no time for symbolism.
It is extremely difficult, even with all of our scientific knowledge, to attribute something as catastrophic to human life as last week’s tsunami to simple plate tectonics and physics, but there is no moral or meaning to the story beyond what we can learn from it about mitigating loss of life in future cataclysms through planning and warning. The rest is just the literally thoughtless twitching and murmuring of Gaia in her deepest of sleep.