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Doctor recommended for optimal cerebral hygiene 

a flood

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

there was a time when other people's disasters had little effect on me. that time is over.

i'm not sure it's a change for the better.

since i became a parent it has been much easier for me to put myself in someone else's place. to imagine how i would feel if it were my son and daughter laying dead, victims of a mindless act of nature.

the images pouring in from india, sri lanka, thailand, indonesia and other flooded coastlines are washing over me with unexpected power. mothers wailing, being pulled away from their lifeless children. unidentified bodies in mass graves, wrapped in white, forever unclaimed by family and friends.

i hear the reports of the destruction, worse with each passing hour, and i want to cry.

but i don't.

because while part of me is eager to empathize, to embrace fellow humans in a time of tragedy, another part vehemently insists that that response amounts to capitulation in a no-win situation.

you know why men don't cry? because we're afraid...afraid we won't be able to stop. god knows there is much to cry about. every day the act of living is enough to drive the strongest to their knees.

if it doesn't, it's because we who are less than strong keep the impulse at arm's length. we compartmentalize and sublate and deny outright. we refuse (or fail) to take the time to give grief its due. there'll be time later, we forestall, and besides, if others see us break down, they'll know how dire the situation really is.

in reality, the situation is dire every day. for millions of people fighting disease, suffering neglect, dealing with nameless tragedies great and small. the wolf is always at the door, and the best we can do is delay the inevitable moment that the door breaks down. the day when the wolf comes for a parent, a friend, a child. worse, it may not take them right away, instead making us wait for and watch the end, as if in slow motion.

the end, as it manifests itself today in the indian ocean basin, won't be over for a long time. the toll, having risen past catastrophic, will proceed to epic. on this side of the world, good people who care will grow numb to the ongoing reports. others will simply grow tired of hearing them. we'll move on, while survivors a world away will struggle to cope.

they face the prospect of burying their dead, avoiding starvation, preventing an epidemic, somehow rebuilding their lives. in the face of utter devastation, they'll have to deal with memories like these...

(from the washington post) Haggard with unkempt, jet-black hair, Emi, who like many Indonesians uses one name, recounted how she and her family had dashed from their home in fright Sunday morning when the earthquake rocked the province, followed quickly by the onslaught of the dark sea.

As the water poured across Panglima Polim Street, many tried to outrun it. But the wall of water came too fast.

"Then, people started yelling, 'The water is coming! The water is coming!'"

Emi's two grandchildren, she said, were drowned instantly.

"The water kept rolling us, rolling us," Emi continued, tugging anxiously on her brown-and-white sarong. "I ended up on a rooftop hanging on. My husband ended up in a tree."

From the branches, he clung desperately to the hand of their son. But the boy slipped away, dropping into the churning waters, vanishing.

i don't know how they'll manage. i don't know how they can go on without their children. i don't know how that father will ever be able to convince himself that he couldn't hold on any longer...that it wasn't his fault. parenthood allows me a glimpse of how i'd feel in his place. but i don't let myself look too long.

because i am afraid of what i might see.

the wolf is always at the door, and it scares me. not for myself. that i can handle. but for those i care about, those i might not be able to protect. i fear for them.