“The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious . . .”

All I have to say is that this photo really affected me when I first saw it, and still does. It conveys much about compassion, community, America, and the human spirit. Taken by Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP) last Wednesday, it shows President Barack Obama embracing Donna Vanzant during a tour of a New Jersey neighborhood affected by Hurricane Sandy. The text is taken from two poems by Walt Whitman, “Tears” and “On the Beach at Night.”

Tears! tears! tears!
In the night, in solitude, tears,
On the white shore dripping, dripping, suck’d in by the sand,
Tears, not a star shining, all dark and desolate,
Moist tears from the eyes of a muffled head;
O who is that ghost? that form in the dark, with tears?
O storm, embodied, rising, careering with swift steps along the beach!
O wild and dismal night storm, with wind–O belching and desperate!

Weep not, weep not,
The ravening clouds shall not long be victorious,
They shall not long possess the sky, they devour the stars only in apparition –
They are immortal, all those stars both silvery and golden shall shine out again,
The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again, they endure,
The vast immortal suns and the long-enduring pensive moons shall again shine.



The Cry of The Earth

After events like Hurricane Sandy, there’s always someone just chomping at the bit to assign the cause to society’s moral degeneration and the supernatural. People like John McTernan, a radical right wing Christian preacher, who blames the super-storm on homosexuals and Obama, along with the wild assertion that “God is systematically destroying America.”

Buddhism has had a few nuts, too. In 13th century Japan, a guy named Nichiren blamed the great earthquake of 1257 on the Japanese people for slandering the Lotus Sutra, as if a collection of writings somehow had a consciousness and the mystic power to punish people. Fortunately, Buddhists like Nichiren have been rare.

The cause for Hurricane Sandy was weather, pure and simple. However, it did get some assistance from a little thing called “global warming.”

GOES satellite image provided by NASA

As I understand it, there were a number of unique factors involved with making Hurricane Sandy the largest Atlantic hurricane on record with winds nearly 1,000 miles in diameter – a “superstorm.”

Sandy was a modestly strong hurricane as it came up from the Caribbean and it should have lost energy when it began to pass over U.S mainland. However, this storm moved along the eastern coast where the waters were warmer than usual, giving it more energy and making it larger. It began producing its own cyclones that became storms of their own, known as “nor’easters.” Then Sandy ran into a jet stream. Normally a jet stream will weaker a hurricane and push the cyclones out to sea. But due to climate change, the arctic is melting and changing the jet stream, causing it to dip much further southward than normal. This only made Sandy larger, and slower moving.

Climate change played another part because as the ocean gets warmer, the sea levels become higher. Sandy’s positioning, a full moon, high tide, and high sea levels contributed to the storms incredible impact.

Well, that’s what you would call a layman’s explanation. Still, it’s factual, and yet many Americans will want to blame the storm on God and/or ignore the climate change aspect, because nearly half of all Americans don’t believe the threat of global warming is real.

There is something to the idea that we pay a price for our collective actions and attitudes as human beings, after all that is one of the prime points behind global warming: it’s man-made.

However, most of you reading this already know about all that. Perhaps, you also recall how I have mentioned several times recently that Buddhism teaches the oneness of life and environment.

On December 30, 2004, Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh gave a dharma talk in Plum Village, France, following the Indian Ocean earthquake. In this excerpt he talks about this principle of oneness. His remarks should not be taken literally. He’s not suggesting that the earth too has a consciousness, rather he’s using a poetic touch to describe the impact that we are having on our one and only home:

The human species and the planet Earth are one body. I have the feeling that our planet Earth is suffering, and this tsunami is the cry of the earth as it writhes in pain: a lament, a cry for help, a warning.

We have lived together so long without love and compassion for each other. We destroy each other; we abuse our mother Earth. So the Earth has turned back on us, has groaned, has suffered. The Earth is the mother of all species. We make each other suffer and we make our mother suffer. These earthquakes are bells of mindfulness. The pain of one part of humankind is the pain of the whole of humankind. We have to see that and wake up.”