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Life Changes Just Like That

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Nearly one week after Haiti's devastating earthquake, desperation and mayhem continue. The unfolding catastrophe and complete randomness of those who survived pitted against the utter chaos surrounding the walking wounded and demanding relief efforts has a surreal quality to it. Amidst the rubble and the arms reaching out for food, water and medical attention, you can simultaneously witness shock, death, horror, uprising or a man talking on a cell phone. And then there are the people who not only survived, but had video capabilities and the presence of mind (?) to document what he or she witnessed so that we could see it on our computers or TVs from the comfort of our homes. It's astounding. I'm not sure I'm saying that in a good way.

This disaster is different than Hurricane Katrina. People knew Katrina was coming. The unnamed earthquake gave no warning. The devastation caused by both horrific events cannot be compared or measured by degree or with words like "worse". Devastation is devastation. Especially when it happens to you. Loss of life from tragedy or natural disaster is unjust at best. How humans react and behave to, from and after the fact yield what we are made of or not. I'm watching.

It's no secret that Haiti is a poor nation. When you have almost nothing to begin with, how much more can one possibly lose? It's almost impossible to wrap my head around all this. It's not like three years from now everything will be rebuilt and strip malls will welcome the world with open arms and giant sales or Starbucks addicts will be able to get their fixes refilled. It's not that simple.

There is no quick fix for Haiti. I doubt there's even a slow one. If you're down to $7.83 in your checking account in America, you are likely still better off than the majority of the population in Haiti was before the earthquake happened. Think about that.

We view this unfolding story from the comfort of our living rooms. One eye stays glued to the images while the other looks away. We are shocked and awed by Mother Nature's wrath. How long ago was it that we watched the invasion of Iraq? That was shock and awe of a different kind. We do this kind of thing to other nations and people for a lot more than $7.83. Yes, I'm going somewhere with this.

I often say, "Life can change from one minute to the next. At any given moment, your life can change."

Whether you are living in a country that pisses off another or simply minding your own business on some idle Tuesday afternoon, war or natural disaster can strike and change your life just like that. That it becomes a live TV event that people refuse to watch or are riveted by is one thing. That it doesn't make people realize how random life really is another.

For the next few days or weeks, we are going to hear a lot about Haiti, the recovery, the stench, the rubble, the clean-up, the rebuilding, the miracles, the losses and the inevitable finger pointing and pleas for help. And then suddenly, our attention will be drawn away to something ridiculously trivial like where Tiger Woods has been camping out or what controversy surrounds some American Idol contestant.

Unless we were personally touched or affected by the earthquake, we will forget how lucky we are or how random life is and what really matters. We'll move on with our lives worrying about the same stupid things that we think are really important to ourselves instead of thinking of the poor people of Haiti and how $7.83 could change their lives from one minute to the next.

We move on because we have to. We move on because we can. Until something else comes along and changes our lives.

Just like that.
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Patricia A. Smith is a writer and artist (and sometimes both at the same time). A former columnist, restaurant critic and cruise line executive, Smith has lived in London, Greece, Denmark, Hungary, Egypt, Costa Rica and France. She returned (more...)
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