I listened to the initial reports of the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti while driving home from work Tuesday evening. Later, I tried to read the lead articles at the New York Times website. I had a great deal of trouble making it through the first several paragraphs. Even at the outset the carnage was too much to comprehend—50,000 to 70,000 feared dead in the worst earthquake to hit the country in 200 years.
Normally, when disaster strikes, rescue workers transport the injured to emergency medical facilities for care. In Haiti the hospitals themselves were leveled by the quake. The infrastructure of the country had crumbled. There was no medical care available, no food, no water, little transportation; and chaos reigned in the streets.
Today I scanned photographs of bulldozers dropping dead bodies into dump trucks; piles of corpses lying in the streets; faces looking up holding empty buckets to be filled with fresh water; a bag of IV fluid hung from the branches of a tree infusing into the arm of a woman reclining on a mattress on the grass; faces of pain, faces of grief.
This week one of the women at the office returned from a vacation in the Caribbean. She brought back a nice tan, stories of the exotic life and stacks of color photographs. Co-workers oohed and aahed over the sandy beaches, the turquoise waves, the plush hotel accommodations. It was a dream getaway. For three days it was the talk of the office.
“Did you see the photos?” someone asked me late one afternoon. “You have to see them—what a lovely place!”
“Guess she didn’t go to Haiti,” I mused matter-of-factly.
“Oh—why? Did something bad happen there?”
Auden had his finger on it when he penned his poetic treatise on suffering:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along….