Tuesday, January 05, 2010


This morning I ran out of hot water in the shower, which is not surprising since I was the third or fourth to shower before school. The loss felt more than irritating; I felt personally insulted, as if my housemates’ lack of consideration were somehow personal. I felt as if the universe were neglecting me. “Poor, motherless me. Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I'm going to go eat worms.”

And then I thought of Haiti. And what it means to have a shower stall. In a house. To have all that water available to me for washing.

And, of course, I was ashamed.

And then I was even more ashamed for using Haiti—-the huge, unthinkable, un-wrappable-by-my-brain tragedy of everything—-as a prod for my piddling, shallow little insight. As if I had used the edge of a chainsaw to pry up a nail. How dare I think of Haiti and use it as a reason to be grateful for a SHOWER?

But how else—tell me!—how else can I possibly think about it?


Anonymous said...

Although in scale 9/11 was a tiny disaster compared to what's going on in Haiti, I had a lot of similar thoughts back then: how could I have the audacity to fuss over trivial challenges in my life, when others' lives have been drastically changed (or ended) in ways I'd never understand? And then (oppositely) I also grieved in ways that sometimes made me lose interest in my life's trivialities. Yes, I grieved like that for strangers, but I think I was also grieving for the loss of my children's future stability, and of a kind of security and innocence in the world (or anyway the U.S). Losing interest in my own life's trivialities seemed dangerous in its own way, though, because we do have to keep forging ahead with the mundane details of our lives; we have to strive rather than despair. I finally decided that those who had lost loved ones--or lost their lives--wouldn't begrudge me my happiness in my own life, and that living my life to its fullest could even be a way to honor their loss, as long as I didn't disrespect or fail to give validity to their experience. So, likewise, giving up our warm showers won't help people in Haiti (unless we donate the energy cost savings to them, which isn't a bad idea) as long as we don't falsely compare our trivial woes to their much more significant ones.

I don't think I've ever tried to write out those thought processes before, so I apologize if they're a little incoherent. It's especially hard to express the idea of honoring someone else's hardships by living life to its fullest, but I guess in the case of 9/11 I also meant honoring the dead by living the kind of life they'd have lived had they retained the choice. Maybe they wouldn't choose to be honored that way--but I think I might, in their place. I would still want the aspects of a happy mortal existence that had been taken from me to persist in others' lives.

At any rate I think it's a very good thing when we let tragedies act as a check to our pride and feelings of entitlement, but I also don't think we can or should live all the time in sackcloth and ashes, because there will ALWAYS be suffering in the world (as there was in Haiti even before the earthquake). Does that seem like a reasonable balance of contradictions? These are not easy questions.

Anonymous said...

P.S. You can see that I was already having somewhat similar thoughts to yours (if expressed quite differently) if you read the update part of this post (link).

Oh, but now I see that I'd read your posts out of order and this wasn't a new one of yours. Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

I've come back here to offer a link to a poem by my brother: