The Suddenness of Circumstances

January 20, 2010


Even in a world where shocking images are delivered on a daily basis through the Internet and cable news channels, what is happening in Haiti right now is difficult to comprehend. The devastation is so complete — both physically and emotionally — as survivors try to hang on, the displaced seek shelter and the world tries frantically to find ways into the tiny island nation to care for its people with supplies and hope.

And there is hope.

haitiMillions of dollars have been raised by Americans texting to relief agencies. Small volunteer medical and recovery teams are flying in every day without regard for themselves to be part of the effort. In the coming days and weeks, there will be more high-profile pleas for support and updates from the media on progress being made.

But while this event is an almost immeasurable tragedy, the possibility for good to come from it remains.

The biggest challenge for us, as comfortable, rich (even in a recession), well-meaning Americans, is to resist tragedy fatigue. It is easy to get emotionally involved from a distance for a short time. Our hearts sink at the site of sheet-draped bodies in the streets, and they rise with the rescue of a family from the rubble. But what happens a month from now? Six months from now?

The health-care debate will be back in full swing soon, with a fight over cap-and-trade legislation not far behind. Tiger Woods may re-emerge, and there is certain to be a celebrity doing something really stupid to captivate us for a couple days somewhere along the line. It is way too easy to slowly push extended human suffering onto the back burner every time something new pops onto the radar screen.

So what is the answer? I certainly don’t know, but the ongoing tragedy in Haiti has made me think about the suddenness of circumstances and how easy it is to think we have all the time in the world to do what needs to be done. How easy it is to watch TV at night instead of spending time on things that can make a difference to someone else.

So how does good come from this? Well, other than delivering much-needed immediate relief and contributing however we can, we can allow it to change our lives. We can develop a love for people we have never met. We can be less selfish and show more urgency for the things with eternal consequences. We can get off our butts and do something that matters.

That way, just maybe, six months from now, we will still be interested in the plight of the Haitian people, many of whom will still be homeless, hungry and in need of some compassion. Let’s hope so.



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