American Reporter Correspondent
April 8, 2009
FOR THESE TIMES, 'THREEPENNY OPERA' IS TIMELY
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- And yet again we are waking up to news of another disaster, this time a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Italy, 60 miles east of Rome with 237 confirmed dead and 17,000 homeless as the rescue iof anyone living or dead in the rubble continues.
"Oh, those poor people," we gasp as we look wide-eyed at the television screen and think of the ones awake but unable to move under the concrete blocks pinning them down and the layers of shattered debris muffling their cries of pain and their bargaining prayers to God.
We suffer with them in the safety and isolation of our own homes wanting to help, not knowing how, praying that the rescuers will have the strength to reach and lift for the woman who might at that moment be delivering a baby, or to unearth the bodies of a woman and infant … "carried off in the same coffin," as a Reuters news agency report said.
"What can we do, what can we do?" General comments following news reports are that they could have avoided the deaths by listening to the scientists who told them it was coming. And the comments by other commenters who remarked that the scientists were always predicting this earthquake and it had never come. Until it did.
We always carry umbrellas because rain is forecast and then, just the day we don't, it rains. So, we get wet. That's not even close to the analogy put forth. Earthquakes are different from being drenched and they call for instantaneous response. But, what can we do? From where I sit, nothing. But that won't stop us. Our commiseration runs deeply into empathy and we want to share the load if not the pain.
This feeling of helplessness is not exclusively American; the feeling is universal. It doesn't matter that our needs in our own backyards are extreme, we throw coins into the Salvation Army kettle at Christmastime and write checks to our own church, counting on its being distributed toward helping the poor in the most appropriate ways.
It's enough, we feel, on the local level but when we hear of Katrina and see the pictures of old people on rooftops and mothers and fathers carrying children to the ever-more-distant shores, then it's "what can we do about that?" We ask ourselves if we could hold up as stoically as the people trudging through their own waste as well as the filthy waste from hundreds of others and we know that we do not know what we're capable of until put to the test. But we doubt our own abilities.
That doesn't mean we can't help. So, we think of how we can make a difference. The government sends money for relief efforts; we contribute to fund raising efforts to send materials for tent cities to tsunami victims and hundreds of trailer homes to displaced New Orleanians. Our hearts are big and they go out to all the victims.
But to us, the despair is not assuaged. It does fade away in time, all grief does, but the way we identify with the victims is not as great as the way we identify with the survivors. So, the "something we have to do" is to send money.
We don't send money to bury the dead - dead who were vital and alive, not lingering among the aged and dying, but young and suddenly dead - we send it to help the family cope with their grief. We send it so they won't have to worry about mortgage payments, children's education, and living in general … providing what the victim would have provided had he or she lived.
National and international grief is deeply felt when someone we've grown to love dies in the prime of life or after living a life we held in high esteem so that we appreciated his or her having lived and will mourn for having passed on. One such person was Lucille Ball who gave us such joy and another was Princess Diana, the mother of the future King of England, who carved a niche for herself by initiating the International Ban on Landmines - "a deadly attraction for children, whose innate curiosity and need for play often lure them directly into harm's way" so said United Nations Children's Fund spokesman addressing the United Nations and the countries stockpiling landmines. The Ban was put in place.
What can we do? We wring our hands. We send flowers to the hospital grounds or, in the case of Diana, to Kensington where she lived. Flowers and mylar balloons; most of all, Teddy Bears. Hearts, notes, cards, balloons that shiver and go flat, flowers that die. For a brief moment we become part of it all. We were doing something.
During the Great Depression movies became a pick-me up. We wanted to be like those on the screen, carefree, flamboyant. And in the heartland of America, Mickey Rooney shouted the idea to his friends that they could do something about their situation when it was learned their parents could no longer find work. "I know, let's put on a show. 10 cents a customer."
So, for 90 minutes we watched a movie of the show coming together. With people like young Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney starring and the now legendary Busby Berkley directing, "Babes in Arms" came into our lives and taught us we can all do something. Perhaps we won't say, "Let's put on a show," but we won't sit on our hands either. We'll applaud all efforts and do what we can: a dollar at a time.
Anytime I find myself parting with dollars for a worthy relief effort, I place it face up showing Washington and to myself I say, "this time, I'll let George do it."