What at this moment I find most remarkable is how little impact this greatest of international disasters has had upon my daily life so far.
We hosted my extended family here for Christmas and today they all went home. Our house is much cleaned up and reorganized in preparation. Everyone had a place to sleep; the Christmas tree did make it up on Christmas eve. And the dining table was cleared in time for Christmas dinner. It was a success. We had a very merry Christmas.
I spent very little time on the web and no time with any other new media, since the goings on here were more than enough to hold my attention. On the 26th, we went over to Tarrytown and toured Lyndhurst, one of the robber baron castles on the Hudson. The decorative arts have a whole different narrative of American history in which the very rich can do no wrong except by ill-advised remodelling and the like. And so after the tour, I web surfed a bit and came across a delightful post by Belle Waring on Jay Gould, whose family owned Lyndhurst for 80 years. She is one of Gould's descendants.
I had left the main page of her blog up when I went to bed. When I reloading it when I got up in the morning, I encountered this post:
I hate to think what's happened there. It's just like a horrible nightmare I have sometimes, the towering wall of water, everything frozen for a moment, then the crashing and turning and the baby ripped out of your arms. I have to go lie down now. I feel the deepest sympathy for all those mothers caught in this tragedy, who didn't have the good fortune to be sitting on their balconies with a cup of coffee and watching the dawn come up like thunder at 7 yesterday, like I was. And everyone else, too.
I didn't know what the hell she was talking about. Then I went to CNN. The official death toll was about 21,000 at that point, a mere 10 times the number who died in the WTC. Our Christmas celebration rolled on. Various family members had laptops on our wireless network. We made quiet conversation about the latest on the disaster. 25, 30, 35, 40, 55, 75, . . . Thank God we have no real TV reception in this house. There are certain things I have learned from disasters in the past. One of those is don't watch it over and over on TV.
To the dead and the survivors: No, I don't understand. I can't comprehend what has happened to you. In the abstract, 2,000 dead does not seem much different from 20,000 or 200,000. We made an awfully big deal about 9/11 but what has happened to you is on a scale more comparable to Hiroshima. And yes, I do understand. Small children are not abstractions. When the fuse blew last night and David stumbled on a piece of furniture and hurt his hand, Elizabeth ran down the hall after him saying "Let me kiss it! I make it feel better!" Children are unimaginably precious. Although there are many ways in which we are different, large family gatherings situate one in the midst of cultural universals, all of these most precious things that you had to lose, that so many of you lost. I know that I don't really know what has happened to you but it appears to be the worst disaster that has occurred during my lifetime. Many of the dead I probably would have enjoyed knowing. I have never been to any of the affected countries, and the trajectory of my life will probably not take me there. But your deaths and sufferings are be no less important because of this. You have my sympathies.
The single most sensible idea I've encountered so far on what to do about this is debt relief for the affected counties. Disaster aid is good. Debt relief is better because it allows the affected countries to spend the fruits of their own production on helping their own people when they need it most rather than paying on loans from the West. Push for debt relief.
Throughout, so far, I keep hearing echoes of our own 9/11 rhetoric. Did 9/11 change everything? Maybe yes. Maybe no. But 12/26 certainly changed everything. We just don't know how yet.