A few years ago, the writer Karen Dionne wrote an article for the Huffington Post about why she would never write a disaster thriller. Among the reasons she gives is that during a terrible disaster, the situation deteriorates to the point where the story cannot end well. She thinks the final confrontation with the villain (in whatever form), must be violent. She says, "Readers have limits when it comes to the amount of violence they'll tolerate in fiction." But at their heart, disaster thrillers are stories about survival amidst impossible odds. As readers, we want to experience the dangers our heroes are forced to confront. We want to see ordinary people braving impossible odds. Think of Rose and Jack adrift in the freezing ocean in "Titanic". Or Ernest Shackleton and his brave crew struggling to survive in the frozen wasteland of Antarctica. As readers, we want to see ordinary people braving impossible odds. The need for this is so great it is almost embedded in our DNA.
|In the dungeon of Ludger Sylbaris, one of the few people to survive the catastrophic eruption of Mount Pelee in Martinique that destroyed the city of St. Pierre in 1902.|
Whether we like it or not, disasters are part of the human experience. Since time immemorial mankind has been ravaged by hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis, cyclones, earthquakes, wars, and shipwrecks. Yet we persevere. Resilience is built into our shared human condition. Countless people have suffered sweeping tragedies yet find the will to go on. They rebuild from the wreckage and sometimes find redemption in the process. This is our shared heritage. What makes each story so fascinating are the individual tales of perseverance and triumph in the face of adversity. A disaster is not just about destruction; it’s about people fighting for survival without losing their basic humanity. Disasters teach us to look for our inner strengths and goodness despite the odds against us. A kindness and a favor rendered to another human being at the height of a disaster can bring redemption in ways nothing else can.
I believe disaster stories remind us of what’s truly important. Think of those final brief phone calls made from the Twin Towers on 9/11. Or those desperate passengers on Flight 93 knowing their self-sacrifice will save many more lives on the ground. Helping and comforting our fellow man in a moment of peril is one of the most selfless acts a person can render. Disasters show us the great depths to which humans can sink, but also the great heights at which they can soar. This is something we can all learn from. Without disasters there can be no heroes. And heroes are what inspire us to be better people. Sometimes it takes a disaster of epic proportions to remind us of that.