Yes, I know. I have tragically neglected my little blog and feel the worst for it. Would you believe me if I told you I’ve been busy with work, with life, with the myriad of responsibilities that come with being a citizen of the 21st century? No? Fine, I confess. I had a stoic breakdown following my trip to the Azores this past summer and it’s taken a lot of reading of sad poems by dead poets to revive my interest in Portuguese literature. That, and the realization that today, November 1, is a national holiday in Portugal: O Dia de Todos os Santos.
All Saints Day is celebrated throughout Portugal and the Azores with special masses and processions. In many small towns and cities, young Portuguese children go door to door collecting “bread for God” in recognition of the devastation of the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 which coincidentally took place on the morning of November 1, O Dia de Todos os Santos. Thousands of people were attending church when the earthquake struck. Every church in Lisbon was destroyed. Those who escaped crumbling buildings fled to the port for safety only to drown in one of three tsunamis that swept through the region. Fires ravished the city and those who survived were left to starve among the rubble and ashes. Upwards of 40,000 people died in Portugal, Spain and Morocco with many of the deaths attributed to drowning. The earthquake was felt as far away as northern Europe and along the western coastline of Africa. In the Azores, every island port suffered serious damage from tsunamis.
That one of the largest natural disasters in history occurred on All Saints Day in a notably Roman Catholic country, and where so many perished in collapsed churches, had a strong influence on the theologians of the day. It had many Christians questioning the benevolence of God.
Communities sinking into the abyss of a roiling sea, miles of darkened and abandoned buildings, homes razed to the ground by fire, and most heartbreaking, a rising number of dead. I’m referring not to the Lisbon of 1755, but to the eastern seaboard of the United States today. I imagine there are many Americans questioning that same God as they mourn loved ones who perished as a result of Hurricane Sandy. But that’s the thing about natural calamities. Bombarded with all the beauty and tragedy that the world has to offer, we are ultimately faced with the knowledge that we control so little in life. We can only control our response to tragedy. It is heartening to see Americans of all national origins, classes, creeds and colors work together to restore and rebuild their lives following such a large-scale disaster.
My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected, and especially to the many Portuguese-Americans residing in Newark, Providence, Cape Cod, New York and Rhode Island.
There where the sea breaks in a roaring
And monotonous boil and where winds
Rear their lamentations along the beach,
There it will be that they bury my heart.
~Antero de Quental