It’s not every day you can pull up a chair and wait for a natural disaster to show up. But that’s what Hawaiians did last week, as they—and a few million of us watching on TV—studied the horizon, searching for a tsunami racing 6,600 miles across the Pacific Ocean. When the surge of water came, it was, fortunately, mild—the ocean briefly receded, then rushed back with waves just a few feet higher than normal. Still, it was remarkable to see the visible proof: An earthquake centered in Chile had caused a chain reaction of water molecules to bump against each other, like trillions of billiard balls, and this bumping had continued across the vast marine emptiness of the Pacific, finally rolling up hours later as a series of waves on the beaches of Hawaii. No man is an island, even if he lives in a paradise in the middle of the sea.
It’s one of the recurring lessons of our age: Their disaster can be our disaster, too. After some strip-mall loan officers in Florida and California handed out exorbitant mortgages to hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t pay for them, the resulting tidal wave battered august banks in New York, London, and Munich, brought centuries-old Wall Street firms crashing to the ground, and wiped 30 percent from your personal retirement account. Greece runs up more debt than it can carry, and all of Europe suffers. Globalized, digitized, instantly connected, we cannot escape each other’s mistakes, or each other’s successes; there is no ground high enough. On any given day, a tsunami can come, triggered by people and events we can scarcely imagine, no matter how hard we study the horizon.