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Hebenstreit: Witnessing the Unimaginable

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IBA-hebenstreitSometimes, world events are just too much to ignore. We were out of the country when the First Act of the Japan crisis unfolded and heard about it second hand and late. Not too many areas can withstand a 9.0 earthquake and get back to normal life quickly. But then the cruel Act 2 occurred. It is hard for me to understand the difference between a tidal wave and a tsunami, but for those involved, it probably does not matter much. Watching those boats, cars, and buses just being swept away like small corks in a stream was a pretty chilling realization of the power of nature – nature that with all the technology we have, no one can figure out how to predict or control. Then Act 3 occurred – a nuclear situation as bad as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. What next?? What possibly can happen to punish the Japanese population anymore?

Who really knows what the ultimate figures will be, but the current numbers indicate that over ½ million Japanese are without homes, and over 1 million are without water. Those near the Fukushima nuclear plant have to stay in their houses with duct tape over the windows. I am old enough to remember the Civil Defense issues of the cold war. Teachers had us practice drills in case of nuclear holocaust, and houses and public buildings were equipped with fallout shelters complete with fresh air and food systems. We thought those were a thing of the past until Fukushima.

One of the things that has really hit me is that these folks are just like us. I hate to sound callous, but the tsunami that hit Thailand several years ago was terrible, but it was hard to relate to. It hit pretty much rural areas. The Japanese situation hit cities like Indianapolis. The news has reported that Matsushima, Japan was a beautiful resort town similar to Big Sur or Cape Cod. Now, it is a heap of rubble. The only things standing are the pine trees from which it drew its beauty. Amazing what Mother Nature can destroy, and what it does not.

It is hard for me to even imagine having my home float away along with my car and all of the family furniture, photos and memories. What do you do with 24 hours if you have no job, or can’t get there because the trains are not running, or if you are lucky enough to still have a car, there is no gas to purchase? How do you generate income? But does it matter because even if you have money, the electricity won’t power up the ATM machines and there is no inventory at the store to buy. Pretty unfathomable.

But natural disaster can happen, even in Indiana. Do you remember that Final Four night when the winds reduced the Regions Tower to a shell? Windows were torn out and debris was everywhere. My office was on the 20th Floor of the Gold Building. I looked out my window and saw white papers on the rooftops of every building as well as just on the streets. It occurred to me that what I was looking at was in actuality the tax returns of clients or the evidence that was to be introduced at a trial that week. Yes, it can happen in the heartland.

The Hackman, Hulett & Cracraft firm was one of the hardest hit. Their offices were on the 24h floor. Mike Cracraft’s corner office had windows blown away, but the contract and marker he had been working on the day before the disaster were still on his desk. Mother Nature is fickle. According to Dave Bodle, what saved the firm was that they were able to retrieve their computer server and access their information remotely. Now, the firm has an offsite server just in case. Dave credits the management of the Regions Tower with clear thinking and good strategy to allow tenants to retrieve their important systems as quickly as possible. Maybe we should all create a disaster plan just in case.

We all live our lives day to day. Each day we attend to the matters before us as if they are the most important in the world – and they are. Legal problems are the most important issues our clients face. They are not familiar with the system and rely on us to help them navigate the legal system and to solve their problems. But as disasters like the Japanese situation occur, we need to stop for a minute to reflect on just how lucky we are. Sure, we all probably complain that the Judge just was not listening when we argued our best points. Or maybe our partners were not paying attention when we discussed the way to make our firm more profitable. But we at least have homes, offices, electricity and the ability to carry on somewhat normal day to day life. Things we take for granted, but things for which we should be very grateful.

Let’s take a minute to reflect about exactly how lucky we are and pray for those who seemingly have nothing but heartache and misery ahead. •

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