There is something about doing without that endows a person with a surprising bounty. If that seems like a paradox, witness what’s going on in Haiti. Again and again we see the injured there surmount pain and suffering and even worry about their very lives, to demonstrate gratitude for the often inadequate help they finally receive. It seems evident that in the crux of their crisis, they have been blessed with not only inner strength but a profound appreciation for any aid that alleviates their distress.
Our lives in Maine may seem a far cry from this horror, and yet even a world away from that heat of Haiti, too many of us are also losing our livelihoods, our homes, and confidence that we can prevail in taking care of ourselves and our families in the face of forces that are beyond our control. While it would be ridiculous to say that our circumstances here in Maine, no matter how challenging, are comparable to the trauma of losing one’s family in the rubble of a fallen home, it is fair to state that our own losses surely endow us with a larger capacity for empathy for those faraway Haitians than might be likely at the height of our own affluence. The crisis in Haiti also provides us with a sense of perspective and proportion about our own struggles.
Recently, a middle-aged couple I know here in Maine told me they cannot afford to keep their home, and they are now forced to move in with the husband’s parents. While the wife has held onto her office job, the husband just cannot get work in a field that used to be in great demand here. When I expressed my sorrow on hearing this news, the husband replied, “Look, we’re among the lucky ones. We have a place to go. We have a roof over our heads. And we might even be useful to my parents. It could be so much worse. We know people here in Maine who have nowhere to turn. And just look at those people in Haiti.”
I have heard other neighbors say that they have dug deeply into nearly empty pockets to donate not just to those relief efforts for Haiti, but to Mainers in need. It seems our own economic woes and the Haitian situation combine to make us all more keenly aware of the fragility of human well-being. And so, while the tragedy on that tropical island is anything but a good thing, the news of it, with its corollary awareness of our common humanity, achieves something good. It makes us all more grateful. It makes us all more giving.