A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti yesterday. I've only been in one earthquake and it was tiny. Really tiny. The papers on my bulletin board swung back and forth for about 12 seconds - quite possibly the longest 12 seconds of my life. Well, not really, because I didn't realize what was going on for about 5 seconds. But it was scary. The planet is supposed to be stable, after all; that's why we refer to it as terra firma, solid ground. We know, of course, that it's not as solid as was once thought, but we depend on it for the foundations of our homes and businesses, and the roots of our plants. When it moves under our feet, it's scary and disconcerting.
The other major natural catastrophe I've experienced was Hurricane Andrew in Miami in 1992. That was far more devastating than my tiny earthquake. We lost most of our roof and a goodly portion of the interior of our home, along with many thousands of dollars of earthly possessions. Some people lost more than that. It, too, was disconcerting to see what had been considered stable - houses, trees, fences, a US Air Force base - reduced to rubble. Disconcerting is really too mild a word; it was life-changing. It causes a re-evaluation of what's important. That often comes later, though, after the shock of seeing the incredible damage that nature can inflict, and after exhausting and terrifying hours trying to hold your child and yourself in safety, and after more exhausting hours of clearing lumber and timber and shingles and carpet and drywall from your yard and your home. Then you give thanks for your life and the lives of those who love.
Neither of these personal experiences, as profound as they were to me at the time, can hold a candle to what we are hearing about Haiti. Huge buildings - the Presidential Palace, at least one hospital, and God only knows what else - are gone. As are perhaps tens- or hundreds-of-thousands lives. There's no way to prepare for an earthquake, since there's no warning, and precious little you could do about it even if you knew it was going to happen. And Haiti is said to be the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. So here are people who already have nothing and now they have less. They are frightened with horrible aftershocks, many of them earthquake caliber themselves. They are injured, dying, grieving, holding the bodies of those they love, trying to mitigate serious injury in the midst of serious uncertainty and the ever-present fear. They are without power, without running water, without sewers. They will run the risk of infection, of dying from injuries that shouldn't be fatal, and of those who would take advantage of their tragedy.
From across this nation, help is arriving: Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, Oxfam, The American Red Cross, and my own Episcopal Church through the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund, are just a few among the many who are sending money, people, supplies, and whatever else is needed in response to this devastation. The goodness of people around the world is being tapped in response to human need and in a spirit of our common humanity.
Into this outpouring of generosity and concern step two men who call themselves "patriots" and/or "Christian."
The first, Pat Robertson, is a man who has spent the past 40 years or so predicting the end of the world and pronouncing that "God did it because..." in the event of both natural and man-made disasters. He linked Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks to the United States' "ungodliness," blaming abortion rights and homosexuals along the way. Now he proclaims that God is punishing Haiti for entering into a "pact with the Devil" sometime in the 19th Century. Well, I'm sorry, Pat, but the God I know doesn't work that way. If he did, why do you suppose he hasn't just wiped North Korea, China, and a host of other countries engaged in human suffering right off the planet? Is your God only interested in the US? Oh, perhaps he just realized this whole "pact with the devil" thing; I guess that explains it. God's been so busy punishing the USA that Haiti somehow fell through the cracks until now. Or maybe Robertson's just a sick man who takes delight in the suffering of others if it helps to advance his agenda and increase his donations. Unfortunately, there are too many in this nation who actually believe him and will echo his pronouncements.
Next into the fray steps Rush Limbaugh, the advance man for the Republican Party, telling his listeners that "...we've already donated to Haiti. It's called the US Income Tax." Of course, you can't really expect anything else from a man who has no kindness in his heart for the citizens of his own country. A man whose most common response to those who live in poverty, are losing their homes, can't afford health insurance is "get a job." Rush has his, so the rest of the world can just kiss his ass. And a lot of people do. Far too many of them are in the very boat that he's shooting at; but somehow just listening to Rush makes them feel that they, too, can someday have a big house in Florida and take winter vacations in Hawaii. In the meantime, they will subscribe to his narrow-minded and bigoted view of the world.
And, so, here we are: the wealthiest nation in the world. Even our very poor have more than most of those who live in Haiti. We have no real concept of the abject poverty that already exists there, nor can we fully understand what they are now experiencing. Even those in this nation who have experienced major earthquakes could rely on the largesse of our government, on the outpouring of aid from our citizens. Perhaps only those who were manhandled in the aftermath of Katrina could have a glimmer of understanding, but even they were shored up by the outrage of their fellow citizens. Haitians have nothing. And now they have even less.
We have Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh.
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