Saturday, January 16, 2010


I have wanted to post something about Haiti, but somehow anything I might say about my responses would be presumptuous, if not inane.

But why can't we confiscate the bankers' obscene bonuses, which far exceed by many times over all the relief money sought and earmarked for Haiti, to create a trust that would provide the long-term human services, the rebuilding, reforesting, revitalizing of this country that even before the earthquake was already nearly dead from neglect?


Monday, 18 January

Régine Chassagne's remarks in yesterday's Observer expressed much, and far better, of what I tried and failed to say on Saturday. In the discarded draft I had used the word 'apocalypse' as she does, in two of its senses: doom and unveiling.

She writes "This earthquake has torn away the veil and revealed the crushing poverty that has been allowed by the west's centuries of disregard. That we must respond with a substantial emergency effort is beyond argument, but in its aftermath, Haiti must be rebuilt."

Chassagne is a Haiti survivor living in Canada. "I grew up with parents who escaped during the brutal years of the Papa Doc regime. My grandfather was taken by the Tonton Macoutes and it was 10 years before my father finally learnt he had been killed. My mother and her sister returned home from the market to find their cousins and friends murdered. She found herself on her knees in front of the Dominican embassy, begging for her life. . ."

It is stories like these that make my reactions seem banal or even self-dramatizing to me, but there is nothing I can do about them; I am helpless before them. Perhaps they recur simply because these responses are part of our common humanity. While I did not, like Chassagne, when I heard about the earthquake ". . .let out a cry, as if I had just heard that everybody I love had died," the impact of grief was so great that my insides felt as if I were in a free-falling lift. The number 200,000 flashed in my head from some deep place; the number I guessed would die; it seemed conservative.

The grief persists as a gnawing, hollow emptiness in my gut. Helplessness breeds strange ideas: there was the wild urge to use the freedom of my current homelessness to go to Haiti to be homeless and grieve with people, to sit with the dying and the bereaved—as I feel myself dying and bereaved by this catastrophe. An absurd idea, of course; I would only be a in the way, another mouth to feed, and I am ashamed that these notions might be grandiose to begin with.

But Régine has given me permission to have these feelings; she tells me they are not out of line. she writes: "This is the moment when we need to show our best support and solidarity. . . .Since Haiti shook and crumbled . . .my heart is crushed. I've been thinking about nothing else. . . .Somewhere in my heart, it's the end of the world."


The distance between Haiti and "Lark Rise to Candleford" seemed unimaginable until yesterday evening. "Lark Rise" is so lightweight that one reviewer announced that "Nothing much happens again tonight in "Lark Rise to Candleford"— though the characters are often delightful. For those who don't know this series, Lark Rise is a rural Victorian hamlet near the up-market town of Candleford. The Old Ways are alive and well in Lark Rise, and the substantial village wise woman, Queenie, is married to a disreputable, grizzled, scarecrow-thin old geezer named Twister. Twister could easily be dismissed as a lazy, ranting, often drunken old fool as he totters around in his battered and dusty top hat, but last night he had his moment.

He had "gone off" his head for a few days, as he does periodically, standing in the middle of Candleford, prophesying packets of food falling from heaven, while the amused and the gullible looked on. Knowing that Twister's state could go on for days and that the bishop was soon to arrive, the pious evangelical postman,Thomas, puffed up with piety and entirely embarrassing in his own right, was scandalized by the thought that the bishop might see Twister in full spate. This unwelcome vision provoked Thomas into more or less kidnapping him, over the objections of his new and very anxious middle-aged wife.

Left alone with Twister, Margaret plied him with plate after plate of food until suddenly he recovered his senses. "It's not the hunger itself," he declared to the middle distance in one of his familiar non-sequiturs, "it's the fear of hunger." His soliloquy was beautifully written and powerfully performed, so much so that the black hole in his mind yawned in the viewer's as he spoke. It is now impossible ever to look at Twister in quite the same way again, and the coincidence of this speech with the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake made the increasing desperation for food and water in the crisis zone palpably real.


Blogger Bo said...

why not indeed.

2:20 pm, January 17, 2010  
Blogger Bo said...

obscene article in the Times today about bankers in tax exile in Switzerland, one talking pityingly of those with 'only' five of ten million pounds in the bank.

2:20 pm, January 17, 2010  
Anonymous dFish said...

Yes, Maggie - i invite and allow the whole family including a 2-year old son, to grieve in prayer with the Haitians.

9:21 am, January 19, 2010  

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