Haiti and the Art of Compassion

January 15th, 1937, Saint Mark’s Place, Manhattan, Maggie’s diary continues:

Still warm and rainy.  Talleys came for bridge and beat us but had fun. All sighing over lists printed in papers of incomes over $15,000, wondering how so many people get it.

And her grandaughter, Suzanne? What was she doing (thinking) on January 15th, 2010:

According to my calculations, in 1937, $15,000 was just about what one million dollars is worth today.  This means, if inflation keeps going like it has been for the last 70 years, in 2080 if you make a million bucks a year, you will be earning at just about poverty level.  In another 70 years, a million bucks will buy you a Honda Civic and a cup of coffee. A really cheap coffee.  Of course, in my cultural myopia, I am only talking about the United States of America.  In other countries, $15,000 dollars is a goldmine.

Take Haiti, for instance, where over 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, making less than $1.00 a day.  The median income in Haiti is $250 a year.  In Haiti people are grateful to have food on their table, a roof over their heads.  On Tuesday, January 12th at five o’clock in the evening, when I had just finished creating stories with the kids at Academy elementary school, a series of earthquakes measuring 6.5-7.3 on the Richter scale devastated Haiti.  It is estimated that 100,000 people died as a result of this earthquake.  3 million people have been affected.  People are still buried alive and others have been orphaned, are looking for their children, their brothers, their mothers, sisters and lovers.  With only one runway, it is difficult to get aid into Haiti.  Helicopters are hovering day and night to take the seriously wounded out of the country.

Even though, as my sister says, now is one of those times when it is hardest to believe in God, perhaps the only thing we can do is get on our knees and pray, pray that our sisters and brothers down in Haiti find safety, find food, find medical help, find some way to make it through tomorrow. While we’re down there, on our knees, praying to a God we hope is there, we might also say thank you for all that we have: something to eat, a roof over our heads, a good night’s sleep, someone to love.  And when we get up off our knees, it might be a good time to give away what we have been gifted, what we have earned, to practice, like warriors, the lost art of compassion. Because in a quick turn of the globe, that could be us in those unsteady streets, feeling the aftershock, searching for safety, praying for strength, wishing for something to eat, yearning for a roof over our heads, longing for a good night’s sleep, and hoping, beyond hope, to find someone we love.

1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish) or online at www.redcross.org.

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