FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Even as the death toll climbed, the bodies washed ashore, and the horror of it began to sink in, there was just one thought running through my mind: how can it be made any clearer that we are all one world, we are one world, we are one?
It may come as a revelation that the India plate can slip under the Burma plate and cause an earthquake deep in the Indian Ocean that has the power to raise two tsunamis and kill more than 150,000 people as far away as India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesia. That whole islands - 42 in the Maldives - can disappear at once. That 94,200 people can die in under an hour in Sumatra.
But when something that happens in Thailand in Asia also affects Somalia in Africa, how can it be a revelation that we are all in this world together? The waves washed away villages of fishermen as well as exclusive resort hotels. They killed humble merchants as well as wealthy tourists from 40 countries. The water did not stop to ask if you were from Europe or Bangladesh, if you were brown or black or white, if you had gold around your neck or two babies in your arms.
It didn't matter if you were a rebel fighting for your independence or a soldier fighting against it, not in Tamil or Aceh. If you were in the path of the waves, you drowned. If you survived the waves, you helped.
People in the rest of the world, in shock, reached as one for their checkbooks. We offered every imaginable kind of empathy and assistance because every cliché had suddenly become true. "We are the world." "The family of man." "The global village." "It's a small world after all."
We - those of us who do not live near the Bay of Bengal - thought of the people we love and then of the people who were lost. We understood. We ached.
We wept for the villages that lost all their children - according to UNICEF, one-third of the victims were children, in this, 2005 , the mid-point in the U.N Decade of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World. "The children were playing on the shore" became a sentence full of horror. Of course the children were playing on the shore. Where would the children be happier to play?
"Wall of water" became a nightmare phrase.
Was there a lesson for us in the news that none of the animals in Sri Lanka's Yala National Park - the elephants, buffalo and deer - seemed to die, even though floodwaters swept through the park, uprooting trees and destroying the hotel? That the animals instinctively sought out higher ground?
Was there a lesson for us in the news that none of the indigenous members of the isolated tribes in the Indian archipelago seemed to die? That they instinctively sought out higher ground?
Was there a lesson for us in the news that, as the AP reported, "scientists knew in advance that southern Asia was going to be hit by a tsunami, but attempts to raise the alarm were hampered by the absence of early-warning systems in the region"?
Now we're entering the scummy part - where we assign blame, where we hear of corrupt officials siphoning away relief money from starving orphans, where we learn of thieves and rapists who are taking advantage of the homeless and where we hear of "the possibility of anti-foreign resistance (i.e. Sri Lanka), especially in rebel occupied areas, may prevent the delivery of aid and assistance," according to the Web site Globalsecurity.org.
I guess that's being part of the human family, too.
Whether you are a multimillionaire rock star (U2 bassist Adam Clayton was vacationing in Malaysia) or little seven-year-old Dinakaran of Chinnakalapet, India, who was saved by his dog, John Donne's words in "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" rang out loud again last week: "All mankind is of one author, and is one volume... No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."
Donne wrote that poem in 1623, but some of us still haven't learned the truth that we are all one. No person is above another. No person is more blessed than another. No person has the right to subjugate another. No person has the right to torture another. No person has a right to hoard - and flaunt - his wealth above another.
"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind," Donne wrote. "And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
The World Food Programme is providing aid to affected countries following the Dec. 24 tsunami disaster. They accept donations at http://www.wfp.org.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.