Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To Everything...Turn, Turn, Turn

Last week I abandoned my usual snarkiness to write seriously about what, at the time, seemed like a tragic flood in my town – lots of property damage, washed out roads, and just a general overall mess. And while I’m sure its impact is still a major concern for those directly affected, I can’t help but compare it to what happened in Japan, and think, what was the big deal? Sure, some photo albums were destroyed, new sump pumps had to be bought, and maybe some mold mitigation is going to be required – but - our town is still here!  No one died, or was even injured, to the best of my knowledge.  And even though the Housatonic River might not be the cleanest water around, its pollutants are nothing compared to the threat of a nuclear meltdown.
 I’m not making light of the situation in Shelton, or New Jersey, or anywhere else on the planet for that matter, but at this moment, nothing is as bad as what’s happening in Japan right now.  Be it Libyan’s fighting for their freedom, Wisconsin employees worrying about their jobs, or even football players arguing about their contracts, they all have it better off than the citizens of Japan.
Perspective is a wonderful, yet terrible thing, as it provides many people with a reprieve from their troubles by showing them how much worse others have it. Perspective makes our problems seem petty, and therefore, not as overwhelming or upsetting, which allows us to then deal with them better.  Sure, I still have to worry about how I’m going to pay for another $450 delivery of oil, but at least I still have a home to heat.
The problem with perspective is how quick we are to forget. After Hurricane Katrina, I clearly  remember how disturbingly easy if was to go about our normal lives, shopping in fully stocked stores, putting things away in fully-functional refrigerators, all while people less than a 6 hour flight away were fighting and begging for the most basic of human needs. Televised images of looting and parents pleading for medicine for their babies did make the rest of us stop and think, for a moment, but then we went right back to  arguing with the woman going through the “8 Items or Less…” line with 15 items.
In a way, I suppose it’s a good thing that the human spirit is so strong that we can continue to fight over such mundane things while others are fighting for their very lives – but if the tables were turned, you have to wonder: When does self-preservation end and self-respect begin? 

I've seen the movie Titanic probably 20 times, and paid to see it three of those times. But while I appreciated the epic spectacle, the timeless romance, and Kate Winslet's boobies, what struck me most about the movie was how it forced me to question what I would do if I were ever in such a situation. Would I bravely step aside when they called "Woman and children first" or would I be donning a wig and jumping in the lifeboat?

I'd like to think I'd do the right thing (whatever that may be) but when I think about how many times I've driven by broken down cars on the side of the road, or looked the other way as elderly people struggled with their groceries, without offering assistance, it doesn't bode well for my courage. I mean, if I can't be bothered to help a stranger change a flat tire, what are the odds that I'd be willing to risk my life for one? 
I can only hope that I never have to find out. In the mean time, I'll donate my $20 to some Tsunami Relief Fund,  keep myself listed as a marrow donor, wear my pink ribbon, sponsor walk-a-thoners,  buy poppies from veterans, send checks to St. Jude's, and try to keep things in perspective.  I do these things because it's the right thing to do - but in all honestly, I do them because it's the easier thing to do. Handing a homeless guy ten bucks helps me sleep better at night, but at the end of the day, he's still sleeping outside...while I have a spare room. 

I don't know if that makes me part of the solution, or part of the problem. Or both. But if there ever is some sort of Judgement Day, I hope they let me plead the 5th, because I know I could have done better.


  1. Last Thursday afternoon, my husband called me in a panic from out of town, because he saw on the news that the Ohio River is at flood stage, and our weekend camping trailer was at risk of getting wet. So I rushed out of of work early, dragged my father-in-law out in the rain, to go down and look at our ancient rusted trailer, which was sitting on a newly created island in the middle of a lake of uncertain depth.
    We debated the wisdom of trying to drive my truck out there to try to drag the trailer to safety, but finally "our lives are more important" won out over "we can't afford to replace that trailer" and we went home to worry about the two more feet of water that were coming.

    My husband came home from his business trip Friday and we sat and watched the news in Japan. We went down to camp on Saturday morning, and looked at our trailer, all alone out there on it's tiny bit of high ground and decided that it really, really doesn't matter if we have to camp in tents this summer, because we don't have to camp at all if we don't want to.

    Terrible stuff going on "out there", but I'm grateful that I can have a reminder to be grateful!

  2. I watched Titanic for the first time last year. It made me wonder the same thing. I couldn't get over those musicians who wouldn't stop playing. I wish I'd act like that. Fiddling into the waves. :)

    There are times when all of us could have done better. I guess the great thing is that each day is a chance to do the right thing and make other people's lives better in the process.

  3. Teri and Elisabeth, you're both better people than me! But I agree - and I actually was going to end my post with a similar sentiment about how it's never too late to change...it's just too hard, but thought it was depressing enough as is

    My problem is, I'm a nice person, but I'm not a "good" person. I drive by hitchhikers in the rain. I don't volunteer enough (at all, really) And I don't always wash my hands after peeing!