Brett Hinckley ’12

December 26th 2004 is a date that I will never forget: nearly 300,000 people deceased and more than 1 million displaced and homeless.

It started for me as a childhood Christmas: a time for celebration, joy, excitement, family, and, of course, presents. Little did I know, this Christmas was going to be one that I would never fail to remember. A wonderful week of great anticipation for my favorite holiday would be spent soaking up the sun in the Maldives, where the excitement never stopped: ping pong tournaments, endless snorkeling 20 yards off shore, and even snail races.

The holiday could not have been better and my brother and I spent the entire day playing with our brand new Gameboys; “Santa” definitely took a look at our lists. After all was quiet and Christmas day was over we fell asleep in our warm cozy bungalow. Suddenly a jolt shot through my body and I opened my eyes to see the ceiling fan swaying back and forth like a pendulum. I, however, was used to earthquakes, having lived in Japan for five years where they were not unusual. Nobody ever thought much of a small earthquake; we simply fell back to sleep in preparation for the day to come.

The next morning brought cloudless skies, water the color of sea glass, and a temperate 80 degrees. Of course, my brother and I chose to sit by the pool and play our Gameboys instead of swimming. Around 11 o’clock my mom noticed something strange. Hundreds of fish began swimming to the edge of the pool, followed by the scariest moment of my life: a massive surge of water similar to a flash flood engulfed our small island. I turned and ran, without the faintest idea of where I should go. I ran to a 6ft statue and latched on like a leech. The water rose to my knees, then to my waist. I felt a tug on my left shoulder and I looked up to see a resort employee as she pulled me up a staircase. While sitting on the steps I witnessed the raging water crush the tall statue and carry it into the abyss. Once up the stairs I noticed that my brother, mom, and family friends, too, had made it up the only staircase on the island. But wait, where was my dad? Then I heard my mother’s earsplitting screams, “STEVE, WHERE ARE YOU?” All I could see was rushing water and debris. At that moment I realized I might never see my dad again. As I could feel the tears start to well up in my eyes, I heard a loud thud as my dad came running up the stairs with a little girl he had pulled from the angry ocean. Here is my dad who saved a little girl and I looked down into my hand to see all I had saved was a Gameboy.

The tsunami changed me. I realized material possessions could easily be replaced, but my family could not. There was a brief period of time when I thought my dad was gone, a feeling that made me appreciate family more than I did before the experience. I learned that life could end at any point in time. Millions of families just like mine were enjoying their Christmas vacations before a wall of water came and ripped their loved ones away.

Was I devastated that my presents were gone and my Gameboy was broken? Yes, at age 10 I was, but I was also glad that my family was safe. Our island was ripped to pieces; but the most important thing was that nobody on our island was killed.

To this day I sometimes wonder why my family escaped the disaster and 300,000 other families did not. Had my brother and I walked to our bungalow an hour before the wave hit, we may never have returned if we had decided to waste time or take a nap.

A surge of water that killed 300,000 people taught me more about life than any textbook or computer ever could. I am thankful for my family and the knowledge about life’s value.