Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean
Around the world, in both public and private moments,
individuals, families and communities are stopping to remember the impact of an
earthquake that produced a tsunami that reached, in some places, over 100 feet
Ten years ago, I was living in Singapore, and found myself
on a beach in Phuket, Thailand when the disaster hit. Today, my life has placed
me in Sydney, Australia.
Like many survivors or families of individuals lost in the
tsunami, for the last months, I knew the ten year anniversary was coming. It is
one more year than nine. One year less than eleven. But the number ten seems to
be a number that if far enough away from 2004 that it requires you check in to
see how you are feeling about a frightening and sad anniversary.
Over the last week, I have spent time being interviewed by
newspapers and making television appearances as a “spokesperson” for survivors.
No one has asked the question. But I am sure some must wonder. “Rick, it is ten
years later. Why don’t you move on?” They don’t dare ask it in the interviews.
But many ask that related question to find out, “Are you still suffering from
|December 26, 2014 "Sunrise" Channel 7 interview of Rick Von Feldt |
on the 2014 Tsunami, Sydney Australia
For survivors that lost loved ones – a son or daughter – a brother
– a girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse – the answer will always be, “Of course I
suffer.” Anniversaries remind individuals of the loss of others – but also the
horrific seconds – minutes and hours during the day and days following of the
For other survivors, like myself, who happened to get a
lucky break that day, we reflect on what could have been. But as many tell me,
the goal is to put it in the past – and move on. We were lucky enough to have
survived. Why keep dwelling on what might have been?
For me, writing and providing a site for reading helps two
different people. With the tsunami now really being a part of history (it is
amazing to me that it is already 10 years ago!), I want to keep the stories
alive of survivors for others to read about. Every day, close to 500 people
read this site. It might be only for a minute. Others write to me and tell me
they read the first story, and go on to read story after story, drawn in to the
drama of life and survival. One of my favorite uses of the website is when
entire school classes choose to study the tsunami. It might be for a literature
class – and they read about the tsunami. Other times, it is a science project
and they want to learn about the science behind the tsunami. Either way – the stumble
upon the internet of these stories – and it suddenly becomes real. Real people.
Real challenge. Real horror. Real loss. And real survival.
Three weeks ago, a school librarian in Knoxville, Tennessee
wrote and asked if I would be interested in speaking to a class about my
experiences with the tsunami. When possible, I always say yes to any school
type project. Once the teacher announced the project, other teachers suddenly
wanted to participate. By the time my actual Skype call happened, the event was
broadcast via televisions to every classroom in the school. The discussion and
interview lasted nearly 30 minutes. Later, the librarian wrote and said that
the discussion made a human impact on how kids understood what really happened.
Each survivor – each family member or friend that lost
someone – deals with the horror, memory and loss in different ways. For me – I write,
and represent the story of survivors.
Each of also has our own challenge that we must also
My journey to Phuket in 2004 was to be near the ocean. Born
in the middle of America, I was not privileged to live near the water growing
up. But after seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time as a young teenager,
I was hooked by the sound – the site and the life giving as well as destructive
nature of the ocean.
Since then, beaches, sunsets over beaches and water draws me
to their edge. Like so many, the tsunami, created this dramatic mixed emotion
for me. I wanted to be near the beach – but in doing so, it also created an
Over the last ten years, I have returned to the ocean. I
have convinced myself that I will be ok on those visits. I always know where
the tsunami evacuation routes are. I am conscious of the highest spots around
me. Friends or family traveling with me won’t see me doing this. It’s my own small
ritual. But it is on my mind.
When walking on beaches, low tides scare me. In all honest,
I don’t quite believe them.
For me, in 2004, the tsunami started with what appeared to
be a low tide. It got lower and lower. But few people stopped and said, “When
does it cross over from low tide to a tsunami withdraw?” Most didn't – and many
paid the price for it.
For the last ten years, one of my goals is to sleep in a
cabin on the beach. I have not been able to do that. During the day, when I can
see the water and the beach – I always feel as if I am in control. I can run. I
can climb a tree. I can see the low tide getting lower – and make the choice to
scream and shout to everyone to “get off the beach – a tsunami is coming” which
I have done in my dreams and nightmare countless times over the years.
If you are in a bedroom, with the door closed, that is not
so easy. For the last ten years, I have returned to the beach, but always
stayed in hotels in at last the fourth story or taller. Or away from the beach.
And when I could still hear the ocean, I felt myself hold my breath when for
some reason, I didn't hear that regular splash of wave.
My goals to commemorate this ten year anniversary was to
stay in a cabin, on a beach.
I wasn’t ready to do that in Phuket. But two weeks ago, I
returned to Thailand, and went to another island called Koh Chang. It is an
island south of Phuket – and is more protected by the Gulf of Thailand than the
Andaman Sea facing Phuket.
|Koh Chang Thailand - in the Gulf of Thailand, less exposed to a tsunami than Phuket.|
I rented a cabin within 10 meters of the beach – and
spent every evening watch the sunset. I spent moments each day reflecting on
the beauty of nature – and the unintended events when nature collides. Each day
– I saw the low tide, and watched carefully to see how far it would go out –
and when it should be returning. I focused on the beauty and blessings and
sunsets. And not on what might be bad or might go wrong.
That is the path that most survivors have taken over the
last ten years. Some have returned to Phuket to retrace their steps. Others
have gone with family or friends to give the a glimpse of the bad bedtime story
that they have tried to share for so many years.
In the end, we grieve, celebrate and miss the people who did
not survive that day. And the rest of us do what we can to move on – to celebrate
- to remember and to live.
To all of those that lost someone special on December 26,
2004, I am thinking about you today. And to the survivors – may you have the
strength to move on and thrive in your own way. How did each of you commemorate the day? And please let me know if I can help share your story.