Sometimes a television show or documentary is transformative. One evening this month my family sat down after dinner and watched a documentary on Netflix called Aftershock: Everest and the Nepal Earthquake. I remembered briefly hearing about the event back in 2015, but I have to admit that it did not really register that much in my mind. I suppose that I assumed that given the location of the disaster it had not affected very many people. I knew about Kathmandu but thought that it was little more than a remote little village. I was wrong in every assumption that I had made.
The three episode program focuses on the people caught up in nature’s fury on Mt. Everest, in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, and in the tiny village of Langtang Valley. All three of those places experienced devastating tragedy that is captured with first hand accounts of survivors and footage taken before, during and after the earthquake. The film challenged my emotions in a way that I did not expect.
Hundreds of people were camped on Mt. Everest just below a dangerous ice flow that had to be traversed with ropes and ladders. Teams of guides helped individuals who had paid upwards of four hundred thousand dollars each for the privilege of attempting to reach the summit of the majestic mountain. The area, known as Base Camp was filled with tents and equipment, including a food hall and a medical area. In the early morning hours many of the climbers had already begun their treacherous ascent, reaching Camp 1 just as the earthquake sent an avalanche of snow and rock down the mountain resulting in deaths and injuries in both of the base and first camps. Those higher up had no way back down because the path that they had followed up was gone.
Meanwhile there was a tiny village in the mountains called Langtang Valley. The only way there was a hiking path. It was a picturesque place with spectacular views. A group of Israelis had gone there to see if it was as lovely as it had been described. In fact, it turned out to be better than they had imagined. Being adventurous they decided to continue their journey to the next little town before returning to the foot of Mt. Everest. The earthquake hit while they were a bit higher up than Langtang Valley. When they turned back to take the path that would lead them out of the valley they saw that the village of Langtang was covered in mud, ice, and rock along with all of the people who had lived there. There was literally no sign of civilization and no way out.
I learned that Kathmandu is a large city with millions of people. The quake there took down entire buildings where people were trapped under rubble. The scene was so overwhelming that first responders had no idea how to even begin rescue efforts.
What struck me most about the documentary was the human element. It reminded me of how we humans are more alike than we are different. We may speak different languages, have different cultures, and come from different income levels, but in an emergency situation we all react in similar ways. We experience fears but also want to help those who are hurt. We grieve more for loved ones and even strangers than for the loss of material goods. We have helpers and we have those who take advantage of the situation. All three areas featured in the film became microcosms of the human experience.
We too often become so tied up in everyday living that we become isolated in our thinking. We want to protect our own and we see people from other places as outsiders. We tend to assume that we don’t really have any responsibility for them. We eye them suspiciously and only see their differences rather than the ways that they are exactly like us. It often takes a disaster to bring us together and even then, if the tragedy occurs far, away we may have difficulty understanding our duty to help our fellow humans.
I know that we can’t be all things to all people, but we should be capable of understanding that the trials and tribulations of life happen to each and every one of us regardless of where we live or our economic status. I suppose this is the aspect of the program that burrowed the deepest into my heart. It was a reminder that even in a remote part of the world there are people with the same kind of dreams and feelings that I experience. Perhaps we would do well to view them with more understanding and compassion.
I remember hearing from a friend who had once traveled to Nepal. When the earthquake there occurred he spoke of how loving and kind the people there had been when he visited. He urged us all to pray for them and to do whatever we were able to help to them. His plea did not affect me as much as it should have. I only thought of how nice he was to think of them. I realize now how very ignorant I was in that moment because I truly thought that only a tiny number of people had been affected.
We are all members of the human race. We live and breathe and love and laugh and suffer in our time here. The world would be a much better place if we were to set aside our differences and share the earth and its treasures. When disaster comes the people wealthy enough to spend forty thousand dollars to climb a mountain are no different from the poorest souls trapped under the rubble of a building. They all become brothers and sisters in that moment of tragedy and death. How wonderful it would be if we were able to remember that reality even when the days are mundane. We should make it a daily practice to look around where we live and even far away to see who is suffering and then do something to help. One day it may be our turn to need the kindness of strangers. Hopefully when that happens we will have already done our part to be compassionate when others were seeking refuge. We should daily remind ourselves that no matter where we look in the world we are mostly the same.