Saturday, January 08, 2005

Reflecting on Giving and Disaster and Writing and Writing on Giving and Writing on Disaster; Also, Actually Writing

Should I have said more earlier on about the tsunami? I don't think so. Little could I have added to this discourse that the brutal sadness of pictures and stories and first-hand accounts did not provide. Perhaps I could have criticized our President for his weak initial response to this horrific tragedy. Again, my perspective would not have added much to the discussion. So I listened, instead.

Personally, I cannot comprehend the pain, so even in listening I did not understand. I do not think I can understand. So, instead of trying to understand experience that I have not had (very fortunately), I will say something that I do not particularly need to say:

Give. I don't simply mean now or in the next few weeks or while the cable news outlets keep pumping you full of images of suffering. I mean keep giving. We tend to have short attention spans; within a few weeks, most of us will hardly remember what has so oppressed our minds the past several days. Even before the rubble is cleared and the people are bandaged, or buried as it were, we will have moved on. But the clearing and bandaging and burying do not begin to describe the deep ramifications of this event.

It will require generations to recover. In coming months, those humbled by this force will be reabsorbed into the clamorous poverty already present in all the affected countries. There, in that sesspool of desperation, the subtle shadows of this Christmas surprise will run deep, through families, villages, societies.

They need our help and we need to continue to give it. Children without parents, parents without children, villages without people, people without villages, loss does not disappear. Grief does not disappear. It may fade, subsiding slowly and incompletely temporarily, but it is always there. Will we be there?

Are we there now? Yes, yes, $350,000,000 is a lot of money. But symbolically, America has lost something (maybe for the better?). We are no longer the unquestioned benefactor of this good earth. We are not the deus ex machina we used to be, there to scoop up the remains of natural or manmade disaster, rebuilding the thatched huts of society from Asia to Africa. The Japanese (or creditors) and the Australians have blazed past us in charity, even after our government was shamed into giving more. Of course, that private citizens and corporations could compete with the aid package of the world's last remaining superpower is only heartening to the neoconservative ideology that has permeated the very seat of Western democracy.

The charity of our people is sheer beauty. But our government has lost that shimmer. There was a time when leadership meant vision, a vision of progress and glory for all the world's citizens. There was a time when strength was measured not just in territories conquered and warcries howled from the summit of some great sand dune in the midst of inflicted nothingness, but also in the size of our olive tree, with branches enough for all human beings of this earth. The greatest commander of war is the arbiter of peace, and from that arbiter's first step may the rest of us take our own steps, small but firm, and together march humanity forward with hearts instead of clubs.

Then again, if our less than spectacular showing would suggest that we have humbled ourselves, admitted our place as just one more in the parade of nations, then this might mean we would choose to check our domineering tendencies. I doubt this--The great might of this country, once the firmament and symbol of righteous (though not self-righteous) grandeur, is now poured into the despair of spent shells and armorless Humvees. Worse, it is also the blind jingoism that sends those Humvees to battle and that aims those shells at the hapless masses that run together in shades of brown. No, none of the bad of our stature will go, but the good that came of America's unparalleled strength--This seems to have begun its flight into the abyss.

I am done.

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