Wednesday, January 13, 2010

35 Seconds

35 seconds is both forever and a mere instant. It's an instant if you're taking a timed test or trying to scribble down the right answer to a Final Jeopardy Question. It's seemingly forever (in our world of instantaneous responses) when waiting for voicemail to click in. It's a little longer than many of the annoying and inane advertisements that pepper our daily television watching. It's also how long it took for the earthquake in Haiti to devastate and destroy Port-au-Prince and beyond. (USGS estimates that the earthquake lasted for somewhere between 35 seconds and one minute.)

I've never experienced an earthquake and (*touch wood*) I don't ever care to. I have sincere admiration for people who live in California and other earthquake-prone places, you're all collectively braver than I could be. Some days the only things I take for granted as real certainties are that the sun will rise and set and that the earth won't quake and crumble beneath my feet. While there are tornadoes and hurricanes, blizzards and floods here in the Northeast, we're usually warned and have time to reach a place of safety. I've been through a devastating flood as a child in Minnesota and lived in NYC pre and post 9/11. I sweated with all my fellow New Yorkers through the big East Coast blackout of August 2003. Difficult, frustrating, and frightening in various degrees, to be sure, but my inconveniences and fears are insignificant in comparison to the human suffering and tragedy befalling the people of Haiti today. And I apologize in advance if this sounds too much like a sermon.

What of course makes the disaster in Haiti so much more devastating is the pre-existing abject poverty. It's one of the poorest countries on the planet and the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, there is no real building code nor any significant organization of first responders. And that alone, the absence of large scale teams of firefighters and other EMTs, is absolutely unthinkable to most of us. We assume and expect that when tragedy strikes, the local firehouse or ambulance team will arrive in timely fashion to assist or transport us to a medical facility. Not so in Port-au-Prince today. Further, it seems like most of the heavy machinery (and gasoline/fuel) needed to dig through rubble and move obstacles will have to be brought into the country. And fresh, potable drinking water is not a given in this country--that issue alone compounds the difficulties and dangers exponentially. What infrastructure there was in Haiti has barely recovered or rebuilt from the hurricanes and mudslides of 2008, so this is, in the worst of all possible scenarios, most cruel insult added to injury.

Haiti is also heavily Catholic--something like 80% Catholic--and it was truly heartbreaking to see their lovely cathedral turned into a sad shell...with further word that the Archbishop and scores of seminarians lost their lives in the quake. I know that all the Catholic churches in my area are mobilizing to take donations of clothing and blankets, etc. (And I'm sure other congregations are as well, I'm just connected to the Catholic community so I'm commenting specifically on their work.) I've read the Vatican's statement on the tragedy and hope they will be contributing substantial amounts of money, materials, and aid to the people of Haiti. There's a huge network of Catholic charities and groups like Caritas, but in my opinion, the Vatican itself has to take the lead. It goes without saying that most Catholic parishes have sister parishes in the Caribbean or South America that they do mission work with and send aid to, but I'd really like to see the Vatican throw a little of their considerable coin toward Haiti. I know everyone individually will do what they can--and we can all make a contribution in some small way, whether it's of a financial, spiritual or clothing/household goods. That said, I want there to be more than prayers emanating from the frescoed, gilt covered walls of the Vatican.

Twitter and Facebook have once again been at the forefront of getting out useful information and details. From texting donations to networking people to find out the status of family members and loved ones, it's quite hopeful to see the positive effects these technologies can have.

Here's a link to the White House list of ways to help

And this website, is a great clearinghouse for donations. You can choose to donate to everything from AmeriCares to American Jewish World Service and Doctors Without Borders. Of course, prayers cost nothing and silly as it may sound, I've always felt my prayers worked a little better when said in Latin or when I've been somewhere to light a candle.

Seriously, though, do think about it. How much can change in 35 seconds. For those like me who have never had the earthquake experience, look at the second hand on your watch ticking off 35 seconds and imagine the earth beneath you shaking violently for that length of time. And then say a prayer, send a donation or help mobilize donations in your area. Each of us can do something, the recently deceased Miep Gies is proof of the difference one person can make.

1 comment:

Rebecca Caplice said...

Nice perspective on how life can change in a nanosecond. Here I am, snug and warm in my living room, playing on my computer. I won't lose sight of my blessings. Thank you!