How do you put all this together?
The enormous earthquake in Haiti is an unimaginable tragedy. They are now saying that there may be 50,000 deaths, and 3,000,000 (1/3 of the country) homeless. I have only been to Haiti one time, in 1977. At that time, Port-au-Prince looked to a great extent like a city in the midst of falling apart. Colorful, yes. Lively, yes. Friendly, yes. But very poor, very crowded, an infrastructure not worthy of the name, and dilapidated buildings of unpainted wood and spalling concrete.
Poor governments, an isolating language, a lack of natural resources, deforestration, and, yes, racism, all have contributed to Haiti’s problems. Now what will happen? Will Haiti rise from the ashes, stronger than ever? That’s a possibility of the rest of the world provides the support that it needs. But can one afford to be that optimistic?
Of course, earthquakes are nothing new. And there have been perhaps a dozen earthquakes over the past century which have resulted in 50,000 or more deaths. And more are to come, overriding the dangers of terrorism, which grab so much of our attention.
And, of course the holocaust was a horrific event of another kind, about which so much has been written and so much is known. Yet no matter how much is written, it is so easy to find something new, which gives you a perspective you did not have before. I recently read “The Girls of Room 28”, by Hannelore Brenner, the story of young teenagers (mainly, but not exclusively, Czech Jewish), who were imprisoned during World War II in one ward at the “model” prison camp of Theresienstadt. Some survived; some did not. Hannalore Brenner learned that some of the survivors began to hold reunions, with women, now elderly, coming together from all over the world. She began to attend, and has written a book based on the particular histories and life stories of these women, before they were arrested, during their detention, and afterwords. A new perspective.
Earthquakes and holocausts. Very important.
And then there are the diversions. “Ecstacy”, the 1933 Austrian film which introduced Hedy Lamarr to the cinema – a stylized story of a wealthy young woman who marries a dour older man, realizes her mistake the first night, sues for divorce and falls in the love with a handsome worker-type, the old world turning into something new. “The Farewell”, a German movie which tells the story of the last summer in the life of playwright Bertolt Brecht, his wife and his corps of former (and perhaps present) mistresses, caught up in the bureaucracy of the old German Democratic Republic. And the Washington Caps coming from a 4-1 deficit, to beat Florida 5-4 in a shoot-out.
Diversions are important – they can keep you sane. But they can’t divert you from the important issues, either. Even if you are personally unable to do much. The balance is difficult.