77: Tsunami Survivor

77: Tsunami Survivor

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Tsunami Survivor

The purpose of life is a life of purpose.
~Robert Byrne

When I was in third grade, my school principal allowed me to start my Winter Break early with the condition that I kept a journal on what happened each day of my vacation. Well, here’s my journal entry.

It seemed like an ordinary morning on vacation. My family and I were vacationing in Sri Lanka (our country of origin) for the holidays; it was the day after Christmas. My parents and I were very tired in the morning, delaying our plans to head for the beach by two hours. Two hours that seemed meaningless, but ended up meaning the world to us.

My father and I washed and went downstairs for breakfast at the busy hotel restaurant while my mother decided to sleep in a bit longer. We tried to eat slowly so that my mother wouldn’t have to eat alone, but in the end it was no use. We waited even longer; still no sign of her. And then we spotted my aunt and uncle, who were to drive with us to the Hikkaduwa Beach. We chatted for a while and then my mother finally joined us.

I was nearly as eager to go as my dad, who had spent his life by the sea and had so wanted to take me to the beach … but unfortunately (well fortunately, actually) my mother needed to take her asthma medication, which required her to eat first. Then once more we waited as my mother dashed upstairs to get her water bottle. She apologized for her tardiness and we all packed into my uncle’s van, delayed by yet another half hour.

It was a two-hour drive down to Hikkaduwa Beach; we were shocked at what we found. People were running and screaming as the police blocked traffic. My mother told me to duck (she feared it was a shooting or a bombing) and I hid my head in her lap as the police officer explained to my uncle (who thankfully was driving) that there had been a tidal wave and that we should turn back immediately. My uncle was reluctant, but decided that since I was there (being only a mere child) we were to turn back.

I am thankful to this day that it was not my father driving, for he was in denial over the fact that his ocean was taking lives with the push and pull of its waves and he would have continued driving us straight to our deaths. I was nearly in tears as we turned around. People banging on the van and screaming, “Let us in! Let us in!” and wailing in agony. We had neither room, nor time, to spare.

So we drove back and my father stopped at a good friend’s house to see if everyone was okay. After a few minutes he ran back and said that his friend was at work, and the wife was in hysterics because she couldn’t find her mother (who had been praying at a temple), and that he’d tried to bring her to safety but couldn’t get in a word between the shrieks. The danger seemed to be gone, but he didn’t like the looks of the water crawling towards them. Besides, we were all still in the van that could easily be swept away by the water.

And so we drove for a while upwards, to the Holy Cross Church, where we could still see the ocean but were too high up for it to reach us. We weren’t the only ones there. Many people crowded together on the point, some of them wet. I saw a young man carrying an elderly lady on the steps, another elderly lady holding nothing but a few saved belongings and a picture of Jesus Christ who couldn’t find her son or grandson, a few young girls wailing for their families, and of course those who were by themselves,; and would remain so. I tried comforting the lady with the picture and some of the wailing girls … I was in a trance-like state of mind. We handed out crackers and tried to make sense of what would happen next. I gazed out at the ocean; it was a murky brown, filled with debris.

Once we deemed it safe, we returned to the van. I was so exhausted; I couldn’t take much more … and so I fell asleep. When I woke up we were going out to lunch as if nothing had happened. Had it been a dream? No, it had been a nightmare. My parents later told me that once we had turned around and headed for Holy Cross, the second wave had hit. It was that wave that had taken thousands of lives, and left many homeless. I have never looked at the sea the same way again. Also, about 200 cars that had not turned around as we did were swept away; some license plates were found in the Maldives, 767 kilometers away. It all came down to a minute or two that had saved our lives.

There must be a purpose I have to serve, a reason why I lived through that tragedy. I was witness to something that has affected the world.

~Sheoli V Gunaratne, age 13

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