The Casual Blog

Tag: Haiti

We won the lottery, ate, and were transformed by the ballet

I was terribly embarrassed to forget about lunch on Wednesday with my good friend Jay B.  After dealing with a series of absorbing if not gut wrenching legal puzzles through that morning, I paused around 12:15 to check the headlines in the NYT.  At that moment Jay called to ask where I was. I remembered instantly that I was supposed to be with him at noon at the Remedy Diner.  I also remembered I had put the meeting on my electronic calendar when we scheduled it, but somehow it was not on the calendar now.  After fifteen minutes of rushing and apologizing profusely, I was in my seat at the Remedy and catching up with Jay.

It’s always fun to hear about Jay’s doings, but he had a particularly fascinating story this time:  he had arrived in Haiti on January 12 five hours before it was hit by the mother of all earthquakes.  He and daughter Kate were there to do some charitable work in a village some distance from Port au Prince, and got close up view of the incredible devastation heaped on a country already unimaginably poor and broken.  The contrast between the Haitian experience and ours is indescribable.  As I said to Jay, everyone in this country has won a huge lottery prize just by being born here.

But we can’t either celebrate or feel guilty all the time, and we get on with the challenges of our daily lives.  My work Friday was a series of intense meetings with lawyers from all over the country interested in doing business with Red Hat, punctuated by numerous phone calls, emails, and pop-in office questions.  It was almost nonstop activity, but I did manage to take a call from sweet Jocelyn.  She was thrilled with her first powder skiing experience at Telluride, and feeling excited about her increasing skill as a skier.  She also told me about hanging out in a Telluride bar with Ed Helms, a successful actor in The Office.  As I told her, I’d knew from the Oberlin magazine he went to Oberlin, and she confirmed that fact.  Indeed, she told him I went there, too!  It sounded like he was very friendly and quite taken with her but did not attempt anything ungentlemanly.

That night Sally and I ate at Bu.ku, a new restaurant that replaced Fins.  We had liked the food at Fins, but found the place a bit formal and cold.  Bu.ku is warm and interesting, based on the theme of street food from around the world.  The service was very good (thanks, Turner!), and so was the masaman curry.  We’ll go back.

We saw the Carolina Ballet do a Weiss’s Cinderella and several short Balanchine works.  I didn’t love everything equally, but forget the nits.  I still found the experience transporting.  After many hours of computer interactions, talking, and thinking about business and legal problems, the dancers and the dance opened doors to another world — a human world.  They use a vocabulary of movement refined for a couple of centuries to get at a particular kind of truth — emotional truth.  There’s a remarkable purity about it.  The form involves beautiful young dancers, but somehow it isn’t particularly sexy.  Cinderella, in particular, movingly expressed the old chivalric vision of romantic love, and it seemed completely real.  For me, the ultimate test is teary eyes and goosebumps, and it passed.

The crucible of a massive earthquake in Haiti

Last week an earthquake hit Haiti with devastating force.  The destruction was so massive.  Airports, ports, roads, bridges, utilities, and communication networks were all shut down or disabled, and rescuers, aid workers, and journalists still cannot even see much of the area affected.  We know that the scale of death is huge, and the scale of suffering is enormous.  Reports yesterday said there had been 40,000 bodies recovered so far, and without food, water, or medical care, people will continue to die.

Disasters are natural crucibles.  They can reveal unexpected kindness and generosity.  At Red Hat, the population that insists on broadcasting company wide emails on their personal concerns is on an average day a minor but continual annoyance.  After the Haiti earthquake, though, there were many of those emails concerning how to contribute to charitable efforts effectively.  Many people everywhere pity the Haitians and wish they could help. For most Americans most of the time, if they think of Haiti at all, it is as a far away place of unfathomable poverty.  Some may be discovering, as I am, an unexpected feeling of solidarity, kinship, and shared sorrow with Haitians.

But disasters also expose character flaws and crazy ideas.  Pat Robertson, a well known religious TV personality, had this take on the Haitian earthquake:  that the Haitian people made a “pact with the devil.”  He was referring to Haitian slaves’ successful revolt at the end of the eighteenth century against their French rulers.  Robertson thus suggested that Haitian slavery was God’s will and that struggle against it was the work of Satin.  He implied that God personally gave the OK last week to kill tens of thousands of Haitians.  And God was justified in undertaking this slaughter based on the sins of ancestors several generations back.

To judge from press reports ridiculing Robertson, a great many people appreciate that such a view is morally demented.  But it does bring up in a starker-than-usual form difficult issue for religious people who are also concerned with ethics.  If  God is all knowing and all powerful, why would He trigger, or even permit, an earthquake to kill tens of thousands of innocent people?  Indeed, what possible justification could He have for the violent death of one innocent child?  Or for any of the other atrocities that we all see in the ordinary course of  life?  This line of questioning was really valuable to me in finding the courage to step off the path of conventional religious thinking.