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for January 19, 2005

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by Your Diva, Robin Pastorio-Newman

Your Darling, Your Diva, Your One True Love watches General Hospital the way young mommies watch toddlers at odd Uncle Harvey's house. Ordinarily, this sojourn in mythical Port Charles is followed by a nap and Same Day, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo.
On Monday, January 17th, Your Delight had an appointment on the other side of a neighboring town a couple of hours later, so napping was out of the question, and with this little break in routine came an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Perhaps you follow the show, perhaps you don't; either way, you may have heard that Oprah's friend, interior designer Nate Berkus, survived the tsunami in a Sri Lankan resort but his partner Fernando Bengoechea did not. On Monday, Nate sat down with Oprah and the two tearfully discussed Nate's experience in the debris-filled water, and what happened after he found higher ground. To be honest, it was wrenching and informative, since first-hand experience of what happens in a tsunami event is not common in Central New Jersey and up till now might best be apprehended only through episodes of The Weather Channel's Storm Stories, and when anybody suddenly loses a loved one it's a very sad thing. Certainly one hopes this particular man finds comfort and the strength to go on, because though he promised the audience he wouldn't kill himself he'd plainly thought it over.
What was very peculiar was the manner in which the program went on. At one point, the designer mentioned he had a Sri Lankan man by the arm and tried to pull him onto a roof but neither was strong enough and Nate said he didn't know what happened to that man. It was plainly a painful memory. After that, there was no further mention of indigenous persons. A BBC TV producer found a working cell phone and contacted the outside world. A British family was miraculously reunited. Two Swedes set up a makeshift hospital and pulled people out of the water. While these stories were uplifting and genuinely moving, it left one with the impression the only people who survived were tourists who were going to hop the next plane outta there, come Hell or - oh look! - high water. Isn't it wonderful that Nate survived? Yes, it truly is. Isn't it terrible Fernando did not? Yes it is, but his terrible loss might be a little less horrifying if we could stop calling him "Nate's friend" for fear of scandalizing middle American matrons.
The problem with Nate Berkus' and his fellow survivors' stories was that they were rendered primarily to put a familiar international white human face on a disaster among brown peoples too large for most to comprehend. As such, it may become the only story Oprah-watching Americans understand. This is very important: the death toll is still rising, and it really may be too big and too shocking for many people not directly or indirectly to grasp, but millions of survivors could tell stories just as desperately sad as this one, which doesn't even count those whose stories are worse.
Though Your Beloved has never lost a child, she suspects this loss may be the worst thing that could happen to a human being - and some people have lost whole families. Add to this the xenophobic, opportunistic and selfish positions some have taken and been forced to retreat from, and the picture of what we should see grows a little fuzzy. Um, Nate's sorrowful but okay, and the Angel Network will help rebuild the resort town of Aragum Bay because that's where Nate and Fernando were when the water rose - which seems like a whole other strange kettle of fish - and now you're calling the cable company because the picture got so fuzzy it's incompehensible.
Please don't get the idea that Your Sweetheart thinks there's anything funny about the suffering, the loss and the nightmare of recovery. Your impulses are generous, and your heart is open to the idea that helping others is simply the right thing to do. And we believe Oprah's intentions are only the best, and she will make it possible for even cheap, selfish dummies to contribute to works for the common good, possibly in spite of themselves.
But couldn't we take a more straightforward, honest approach by admitting to ourselves, publicly, that the disaster is too big, that we are individually too small, and that when the cameras get shut off and leave, tears will flow for decades? For the good of the entire planet, we must place our trust in the hands of experts, with every belief in just and even-handed distribution of aid and assets, and we must stand behind them, not just now, but always.

©2005 Robin Pastorio-Newman

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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