Coping with Large-Scale Disasters
Every new year I wonder what will happen in the world to bring us to our knees and cause us to mourn not as single individuals but as part of a global empathy for suffering in the world. It didn't take long for 2010 to be marked by tragedy on a grand scale. Last Tuesday on January 12, an earthquake with a 7.0 magnitude tore through Haiti with a force that has not been seen in 200 years. News reports cite estimates of 200,000 dead with 80,000 buried in mass graves. There are also reports of about two million people homeless. We read these numbers and it seems incomprehensible.
I am sure you have seen the news reports by now as well as the images. The injured are lying in the streets along with the dead. Children's bodies are stacked like cords of wood. Earth movers are being used to bury 10,000 people in a single day. Concrete and rubble litter the roads. There is looting, violence and chaos in the aftermath of this natural disaster. Yet it is so far away for most of us, it seems surreal.
We have seen similar images of suffering before on our television screens. The disasters and locations differed but we have seen the look of shock, grief, and overwhelming despair on the faces of the victims of Katrina, the tsunami in Asia, and 9/11. As onlookers I don't think we can possibly understand what is being felt and experienced by the people directly affected by such tragedies. We may think things like, "Thank God it is not me or my loved ones." We may wonder things like "Why? Why do such horrible things happen in the world?" Things like this can make one doubt faith or hope.
Amazingly there are Haitian survivors who have not give up either faith or hope. In an Associated Press article a story was told about a Sunday mass held outside of the destroyed cathedral of Port-au-Prince just five days after the earthquake hit the Haitian capital. Rev. Eric Toussaint led the service where a decomposing body was lying outside the entrance of the fallen cathedral. The Haitians attending this service prayed and gave thanks. Rev. Toussaint gave an answer to a seemingly unanswerable question: ""Why give thanks to God? Because we are here," Toussaint said. "We say 'Thank you God.' What happened is the will of God. We are in the hands of God now."
Regardless of your faith or religious beliefs, there is a certain humility one experiences when reading about such expressions of gratitude. It gives perspective to whatever you might be going through. If someone can go through this type of tragedy and still feel grateful to be alive then maybe there is hope for me.
As we pause during our busy day to think about the millions of people affected by the Haitian disaster we will no doubt feel a global sadness for such extreme suffering. But then we get to go back to our routines and our lives and this part of the world will soon fade from our sight. I suppose what meaning we impart from our far away views of such tragic events depends upon our personal beliefs.
I am reminded of a message given by a man who lost his life in 9/11. A man named Brian gives his wife his dying wish which made the headlines that day:
"PLEASE BE HAPPY. PLEASE LIVE YOUR LIFE. THAT'S AN ORDER." -BRIAN SWEENEY, 38, A UNITED AIRLINES PASSENGER, LEAVING A PHONE MESSAGE FOR HIS WIFE, JULIA
This message, which transcends the grave, is a poignant reminder that despite the powerlessness we feel when our own personal tragedy occurs, we have to find a way to live our lives the best way we can. Our best hope is the connection and love we have for one another as fellow human beings. There will always be life events which will rock our very foundation and destroy our feelings of stability and peace. Being human means one is vulnerable to a world which can be frightening and unpredictable. Sometimes the best we can do is to think of others, and what they too, are going through. In our personal lives this can be our neighbors, friends, family, and other members here. We can try to help each other as we are able, and we can remember that people do care, you only need to look around here, on this site, to see it is true.
My heart goes out to the millions of people affected by the Haitian disaster. I find that I am hugging my children as a way to comfort myself. I know there are many parents tonight who are not so fortunate.