Saturday, April 22, 2006

Tonight in our Tibetan Translation class we got an impromptu teaching on the activities of a bodhisattva. It seems there's a common phrase, repeated many times in the Tibetan texts: gTONG bSrUNG DAG sPEL - giving, protection, purifying and increasing. It's said that a bodhisattva does these four activities with respect to three things - his or her body, possessions, and store of goodness.

So earlier today, on the way from Tucson to Bowie, I was listening to NPR, and there was a story about Chernobyl. And that story started me thinking about a Robert Heinlein story, the Green Hills of Earth. The story I remember has a character who finds himself in a situation where he has to choose between entering a lethal radioactive environment, or allowing a terrible catastrophe to occur. He comes home in a lead coffin. There's a big ceremony - I think they dropped his coffin into the sun, because it wasn't safe to bring it back to Earth.

The thing about this story is that we don't have to look into the future for it - it's not really science fiction. When Chernobyl blew, it caught fire. The fire was sending lethal radioactive material up into the upper atmosphere. Firefighters were sent in. After ten days, they put out the fire. They all died, horribly. They all had to know that they weren't getting out of the firefighting effort alive. They did it anyway.

It's hard to really express the magnitude of what they did, because the honest truth is that they mitigated the damage caused by the disaster. It's hard to say what that meant in terms of lives saved - who personally benefited from what they did. They sacrificed their own lives, died horribly, to clean up a mess someone else made, because they knew it was the right thing to do. By all rights, there should have been a ceremony to honor what they did like the one in The Green Hills of Earth, watched by every person on Earth. But there wasn't. Maybe there was a ceremony like that in the U.S.S.R. - I don't know.

But anyway, the ceremony doesn't matter that much, except that it's an opportunity for us to admire what they did, and wonder if we have the courage to do the same in the same situation.

So tonight's teaching really hit home for me. We, personally, have seen real-world examples of the act of giving as it relates to one's own body.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

rest assured that no such celebration happened. quite the contrary, they lied. they lied to their own people, to the firefighters, to the people of other countries affected by the fallout, to the world. it took weeks before they actually admitted that something went wrong.

even though i was a kid i remember the informations about the accident and its consequences in the former Czechoslovakia at that time were incomplete and confused, at best. e.g., people were told not to drink milk and most of the milk products were banned from the stores for a few weeks and nobody really told why (due to the iodine isotope I-131 half-time being 8 days).

most of the dead firefighters and soldiers who died from acute radiation poisoning had no idea what is really going on. they even poured water to 2000'C hot core, only to cause the second explosion (because it instantly decomposed to hydrogen and oxygen).

perhaps you should've picked a better example and not base your point on something you simply don't have enough information about..

Sunday, April 23, 2006 3:57:00 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

I, too, loved that Heinlein story, and I, too, honored those brave, doomed firefighters in my heart.

The reason for honoring them ceremonially, I think, would be to show the world that such courage and sacrifice (whether well or mis-guided) should not be forgotten, that the humblest among us can rise to heights of heroism, given the occasion.

Thus, we can honor and validate our own intentions--although it is always to be hoped that we will not be called upon to go to such lengths and that if we are, the result will be the desired salvation.

BTW, Anonymous, milk would have been banned because of strontium-90(with a half-life of 29+ years), not iodine-131. Strontium is chemically very like calcium and so concentrates in milk products. Iodine-131 is likely to cause thyroid cancer, but its short half-life makes it less problematic than strontium, which persists long enough to cause serious problems for children, whose bones are still forming.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006 1:56:00 AM  

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