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Half-Mast Tsunami

January 06, 2005

My friend and I made the long drive to Altoona this afternoon for reasons that are best undisclosed and on our journey, we noticed that flags at several locations were being flown at half-mast. Actually, if the truth be told, it was my friend who noticed as I am generally cheerfully inobservant of such things.

She said, "I wonder why the flags are at half-mast."

I said, "Huh. Is it a holiday?" pouring through my recollections for a January 6th holiday and coming to the conclusion that it was not, unless Hallmark had declared a new one that I had missed somehow in my obliviousness.

After coming to the conclusion that today was not the anniversary of some military coup or something, we started thinking of other reasons that the flags might be at half-mast.

"Perhaps the president has been assassinated," I suggested wryly as she mused.

Finally we got distracted by the blinking lights of the power plant as we drove down the mountain and neither one of us gave it a second thought until we were back in Greensburg, me in the driver's seat of her manual-transmission car. As we jerked past the front of Admin, we saw that here, too, the flag was at half-mast. Surely something major was going on in the world that we had somehow missed!

So I get home, badly shaken from my second stick-shift experience, and signed online for the scoop:

The flags are half-mast in the nation until Friday in sympathy of the Tsunami victims in India.

"Following this morning's announcement, the three presidents visited the Washington embassies of Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand." How about visiting the countries themselves to say it in person?

Hmm. Is this how we solve the problems of the world? Fly our flags at half-mast and throw some money at the problem? As the death tolls increase so do the collection totals, plus damn don't people feel good when they donate some cash to a good cause?

I thought of my friend Joline who frequently writes of the horrors people donating money to the animal shelter where she works put her through when she tells them that donating a couple bucks doesn't necessarily entitle them to buttloads of free stuff or whatever.

Is that who we as a nation are? Faceless entities with bucu-buckaroos? Are we really so far removed? I don't know. It just makes me feel sad.

I am sad that scores of people are dying across the world, yes, but I'm also sad that I have been raised in a culture so incredibly far removed from the horrors of live that I can scarcely imagine what it must like to lose everything, to have nothing, and to watch my countrypeople dying by the dozens around me. We are so incredibly blessed in America and yet we scarcely appreciate what we have.

My generation has always had it all. We've never suffered through depressions, through wars, through major tragedies. We have read about these events in our history books and sat back blissfully unaware of true horror. The sadness in me in deep and unending.

I look at my life and I can hardly appreciate all that I have: I have never wanted for food, shelter, or love. I have never lived in a war zone. I have never had to worry about whether I would survive the next year. I have clean clothes and warm shelter, hot coffee and prescription glasses. I have access to superior medical facilities (even if I can't afford to use them) and government support for my quality college education.

And yet I can never truly appreciate all that I have because it has always been there.

How can it be that I live in such opulent luxury and people half a world away are dying from poverty in the form of insufficient medical attention or backyard war zones? Why is there no balance? Isn't one human being's life as valuable as the next? What gives me the right to live a life of luxury while another human being dies in squalor? It just makes me sad.

My friend's been talking about joining the Peace Corps. I'm starting to think that wouldn't be such a bad idea.

Moira at 11:26 PM :: Comments (2) :: ::
Comments:

Those questions deserve answers from a couple of different levels.

From the bureaucratic level, international diplomacy is no childs play. The security required for the premiers to visit the grief stricken nations is enormous - it's not worth it to risk the vulnerability of the mother country. Besides, its not like the world didn't help. My grandfather was a diplomat - embassies are the safest zones in times of disaster.

From the layman's perspective - they donated clothes, food, money, and other extra necessities. Most days, that generosity is more than they can afford.

Joining the Peace Corps is a wonderful idea because ordinary people usually don't have access to sensitive areas. It isn't necessarily a faceless world. People are doing whatever they can, and for the most part, the effort won't be a wasted one.

Posted by: Neha at January 6, 2005 11:38 PM

I agree that we should have whole-heartedly given more service to the cause, but we are so isolated from the rest of the world. I heard that the governments of the countries affected would only accept money from the US. If that is not detachment for you, I don't know what is.

Posted by: Evan at January 23, 2005 12:28 PM
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