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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 14, 2010

When disaster looms, 'ohana becomes No. 1

By Monica Quock Chan

Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring about clarity.

When the tsunami came crashing figuratively, although not literally, into our lives, it brought a wave of realization about what really matters.

"Our first thought was our own family," typed one blogger whose sentiments were echoed by many. As much as our hearts went out to the quake victims, my husband and I knew that our first responsibility was to prepare our own 'ohana for the potential emergency.

The street fronting our home technically marks the end of the flood zone. However, with images of our neighborhood continually being flashed on the news, we decided to head inland.

Our relatives united despite being scattered along the West Coast. My mother was the first to notify us of the tsunami warning. My brother sent informative communications. My in-laws prayed, stayed glued to the TV and probably worried enough for all of us.

Meanwhile, on the home front, our 1- and 3-year-olds were blissfully playing, although the older one understood that "a BIG wave was coming." Ironically, we were originally scheduled for a whale-watching tour at 11 a.m., 19 minutes before the big one was supposed to hit.

Thankfully, our emergency backpacks were already packed. With extra time left, we stuffed our SUV with additional supplies. Friends had kindly offered to let us stay with them, but we decided that a park might be more appropriate for our two energetic youngsters. After stopping for fuel, we literally headed for the hills.

Apparently many others had the same idea. The park was 'Ohana Central, with each clan sporting tents, blankets and food. Grandparents rocked babies while keiki played ball, teens listened to broadcasts and adults talked story. Civility and munificence were more than evident.

The mood was expectant, almost oddly festive. Or maybe not so odd. When was the last time some of us stayed put for even half a day, focused on our families, undistracted by entertainment and technology? We who evacuated realized how few material goods we truly needed. For those of us whose work was unexpectedly canceled, our jobs were put into perspective. Finally, the impending disaster seemed to engender expanded aloha within families. Past grievances were put aside, replaced with expressions of love and care.

Hours passed. When the "all clear" sounded, we were relieved that the Pacific Ocean had, at least this time, lived up to its namesake: peace.

While we were eager to return home, I was also somewhat reluctant to have life resume its normalcy. The experience was almost like gaining the perspective that comes from a near-death encounter or diagnosis of a terminal illness without, thankfully, actually going through either. It was an opportunity to rise above the daily minutiae and be reminded of what I too often took for granted.

In the wake of the pseudo-tsunami, contemplating questions like "What is my life's purpose?" and "What are my priorities," I realized how significant a role my 'ohana plays in the answers.