When Haiti Falls Apart: Making Sense of Mass Tragedy
A little more than five years ago, I was on my honeymoon in Sri Lanka. It was a few days before Christmas and I was on a beach on the southern coast of the island trying, in my mind, to figure out how to change my return ticket home, so as to avoid Christmas in New York and spend just a few more days with this scrappy island nation. After doing some careful calculations in the sand with a stick, my wife and I deemed staying on another week as too costly and too inconvenient. At the time it felt like misfortune, a few days later it felt like nothing but good fortune and providence, as much of the country was cruelly shattered by a freak tsunami that left over 30,000 dead within miles of where I was vacationing.
What followed was a history of unimaginable tragedy that captured the compassion, as well as pity, of everyone on the planet. Unlike a terrorist attack, this was a calamity that could not be blamed on any one person, organization, or country even. It was a natural disaster that produced an inordinate amount of grief, sadness, and uncertainty in the world. We, as bystanders, were all left feeling profoundly sad, vulnerable, and strangely thankful for our relative safety.
Now five years later we are actively bearing witness to the developing tragedy that is Haiti in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. Also a natural disaster that could not have been predicted nor entirely avoided, the Haiti earthquake shares with the 2004 tsunami a lot of the same characteristics: A generally poor or developing area, heavily populated, and ravaged by inconceivable catastrophe and death. However, not to overtly court controversy, but it cannot be overlooked (especially in the case of Haiti) that rampant corruption and boundless poverty did much to contribute to the grief and ultimate death toll (In Haiti the count is hovering somewhere around two-hundred thousand. In South Asia the tsunami killed about 230,000 people in 14 countries).
Haiti is decidedly the country that just can’t get a break. The country has fallen victim to just about every blight and impediment a developing nation could care to know (colonialism, famine, slavery, disease, political corruption, occupation, neglect, and global profiteering) and I know that had the infrastructure as well as the general well-being of the county was in place, we would have avoided the startling severity of this tragedy (to put it into perspective, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay Area registered 7.0 on the Richter scale, comparable to the recent Haiti quake, and killed only sixty-three people instead of the hundreds of thousands).
As was my thought back in the winter of 2004, how are we to most importantly help allay the tremendous amount of pain that is the result of this unforeseen disaster, and how are we to process the immense amount of anguish and death that has occurred? There is no shortage of relief organizations out there (I am holding off on making personal recommendations regarding which ones deserve contributions as I think these things require some research and ultimately a personal choice) as well as benefits (Cupcakes for Haiti) and relief telethons and charities. Still, no matter how much money or time you have to devote the relief efforts, we still need to make sense of this for ourselves and obviously for our children. Do we just shake our heads and let the tears well up? Or do we confront the adversity of this situation with a different sort of resolve altogether?
Time to share some thoughts please.