I confess to not sitting in front of the television for the latest news in Haiti.
If ostriches bury their heads in sand, count me as their close feathered friend. I do not wish to watch the Haitian people pick up the scattered and broken pieces of their lives on my television set for the same reasons that I refuse to rubber-neck at the scene of a car wreck.
I risk that others might find me hard and uncaring, but I keep my eyes averted out of respect and compassion for the victims of the tragedy, and those close at hand who are doing their level best to lend a helping hand. Refusing to rubber-neck at television coverage is my way of granting the Haitian people privacy and space to grieve, to grapple, to gripe and grope toward solutions that are barreling upon them at warp speed.
I’ve been getting my occasional updates off the radio. I was sitting in the Subway Sandwich parking lot when I first heard the story on NPR, last Tuesday evening. The island of Haiti had suffered a major earthquake, the news anchor said. Seven point O on the Richter scale.
The story did not grow into front page headlines on Wednesday, at least in my small dot of the world. I wondered if there were no ‘hard’ news to report. But by Wednesday afternoon — or was it Thursday? — I heard tell of 50,000 dead. Later it grew to 100,000. But those interviewed hedged their bets by saying that no one really knew.
So far, the few dots I can connect are these: Tuesday afternoon late. 7.0. Death and destruction. Aid promised and descending, and in the short-term, disconnected. Shock all around. Years to recover. For the “lucky” ones.
Why is it that we talk of what we do not know, especially when tragedy hits? Is it a way of making the unreal real or thinking about the unthinkable, a way of expressing grief, of showing concern or merely an exercise in connecting dots?
Until God shows up in the actions of human flesh, women in Haiti are leaning on their faith to deal with the aftermath. I learned this news from CNN, while waiting for a doctor’s appointment earlier today. The reporter concluded by saying that these Haitian women were turning their eyes to God for help.
Following their lead, I too will keep my eyes on God…and connect with the “dots.”
After so many years of reading Annie Dillard, it was a bit of a shock to hear her voice. It wasn’t bad, mind you, or good. It was just strange. I wonder if we don’t “imagine” writers’ voices as we read. I’ve never thought of that, but when I listened to the clip, she didn’t “sound like herself”. Now, how would I even think such a thing when I’ve never heard her speak?
The tsunami… circumnavigating friends were anchored off Phuket the day it happened. They’d had Christmas dinner on the beach with about 50 other cruisers. They felt the first wave come under them, ran up on deck, saw what was happening and were able to get to deep water without damage.
They stayed to work for a while, and then went on. As they crossed the Andaman Sea toward Sri Lanka, the water still was filled with dots – not the blue dots of people, but the debri and detritus of their lives. Stoves. Washing machines. Car parts. Crates. Toys. It was poignant and dangerous. As one cruiser said at the time, “That stuff could haunt you.” Indeed.
I can see it all, just as you described, floating on the sea. I’m glad your friends made it out to share their story.
Yes, Annie’s voice is deep and smokey; she uses it with great expression.
My spiritual director told me, right after I began keeping this blog, that he could hear me saying the words I write, because the cadence of my written words sounded just like me. I wonder, if having now heard Annie’s voice, you would re-read her written words and hear her voice as it really is — with the NPR clip tuning fork, your ears might now pick up a different sound.
It would be no great problem to re-read any of Dillard’s works — I know I would find something different in them the second time through. Earlier today I ordered “An American Childhood.” I’ve been wanting her memoir for a while now — and with Dillard on my mind — I finally took the plunge.
I have also avoided the nightly news. I am using NPR and the Internet to learn what I need to know. We’ve had three young people die in accidents in the past two months. One went to our church; the son of our office manager on the day after Thanksgiving, and the last a niece of priest friend of mine. I cannot bear much more tragedy, and I’ve done what I can for the families here, and the Haitian people there. I’ve prayed, and cried, comforted and sent money. It’s all I can do. I love Annie Dillard BTW.~~Dee
I’m so sorry for the world’s loss of youth, in your own backyard.
Yes, we do all these things to express our love the best way that we can. And hope that God somehow blesses it to become more — like fishes and loaves.
I’m not surprised at all to hear that you are an Annie Dillard fan…
I too have avoided looking at any of it.
Many years ago during the Balkan crisis, I had a friend over there as ambulance crew who had to deal with mindblowingly terrible things; one night I joined his world in my dreams and woke in terror. I never knew what to say to him later and we lost touch; he had a total breakdown.
To be able to pray, you don’t have to rubberneck as you put it. To pray is all you need do. There is enough sadness and horror in the world to break us all if we look.
Oh, that last line of yours deeply resonates within me. Truth, truth — nothing but the truth.
My first husband was involved in a similar ordeal — as an OKC firefighter, he helped remove bodies from the Murrah building — in the tragedy referred to as the Oklahoma City bombing, which took place in April 1995.
Oh, the damage suffered by these firefighters — and their families and friends who loved them. Your friend and my first husband remind me of the importance of praying for the helpers in Haiti too — they may be working exposed — without a protective cover of ‘shock’.