Since last week, I have not turned on the TV news.
I’ve kept informed by listening to the radio, reading online reports, blogs, and linkposts. I haven’t wanted to watch the scenes in real time, I’ve not looked at Youtube, or watched video images.I just haven’t wanted to go there. Maybe if I don’t, I can turn the sadness about this terrible thing off when I need to function and get through my day. My heart has been heavy with the devastation, but I have continued to keep moving, and approached the story as a news item, rather than a catalyst for thankfulness. I felt the same way watching the Katrina aftermath. I donated money, I prayed, and it was all I could do.
They are just pictures, and I can close the browser window, really. They can’t talk, or tell me their story, or bring the sounds of their world to my ears, which makes it less real, in a superficial, ashaming way. I have not let my child look at my computer laptop screen while I have browsed through the photos of death, destruction, and crippling, unanswerable need bleeding out from the eyes of the people photographed in front of me. I have purposely guarded myself a little, lest I find myself emotionally drained from the sheer magnitude of this reality so far from my own home. I still gotta work, eat, and be a mom, right?
But today, as I listened to a reporter say something in a news show, I burst into tears, and the week of bombardment about Haiti overwhelmed me. I was parked, pausing to hear the end of the segment before I hauled myself up and out to go to work. It took me a few moments, and I was late getting in.
The show was The Current (on CBC Radio 1), the reporter was Stephen Puddicombe. He is in the centre of the destruction, literally stepping over bricks and bent metal to speak with the people of Haiti, travelling through Port-au-Prince and telling us about their new world at street level. He said (and I paraphrase a bit here, since I lost some of it in translation) “It makes you want to throw away your microphone, and find them a home, to help them in any way.”
I guess the situation finally overcame my imposed self-preservation media barrier because this reporter was looking at this terrible, terrible situation not just as a reporter getting a story, but as someone who had spent time in Haiti, had friends die, and described seeing one friend, by chance, while driving in the broadcast van, and was overcome as he leapt out of the van, hugged, kissed and rejoiced in her survival with her.
Did it make it more human to me to hear the anguish in his voice, the utter exhaustion as he brought this story to us here in Canada? Did it un-numb me from the images of dead bodies, of rubble, of blood, and injured children? I don’t know, but for the first time, because of him, I cried about this devastation. I mourned for these people that I cannot tangibly help. I let tears fall for every child my son’s age who had died before their life had really begun. All the pictures and all the reports did nothing until this man paused, and his voice cracked when he described the tarps and towels people were using to stake their square of street to live on, no fire to keep them warm at night, and no way to protect them from harm. The depth of poverty and corruption magnifies this need by a thousand-fold, moreso than other natural disasters in the past, like Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Italy and China, and the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean.
We listen on the radio to clips about people reaching out to adopt the massive influx of orhpans; we read about the long, snaking, crushing lines for food and water. We see pictures of families sleeping in the streets because buildings aren’t safe to be in anymore, the aftershocks causing paralyzing fear to ripple through the city. We hear about the men and women from Doctors Without borders buying a saw from a hardware store to continue amputations because the plane, carrying their much needed equipment and medicine, is diverted again and again by the US Military, from the airport.
I have donated money, I have prayed, it is all I can do, and it feels like nothing compared to what is needed.