Monday, January 18, 2010
Haiti and a Unified World ... But Why Did We Wait Until Now?
No obstacle can stand in the face of a world united.
I've always believed that, and I think we are seeing a demonstration of that right now in the streets and communities of Haiti.
Since the tragic earthquake of January 12, the world has come together in a way that to me - and to many others, I'm sure - is unprecedented. Thousands of American troops and aid workers from around the globe. Millions of dollars contributed by governments, humanitarian organizations, and average citizens - men and women, young and old, contributing amounts as small as a few cents and as large as tens of thousands of dollars to the American Red Cross, the What If? Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, Episcopal Relief and Development, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, and countless other groups.
Last night, the world came together in a prayer service for Haiti at Washington National Cathedral. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, was joined by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, Haitian Ambassador Raymond Alcide Joseph, Cathedral Dean Sam Lloyd, Cathedral Dean Sam Lloyd, and many other interfaith religious leaders - Christian, Jewish, Muslim - in perhaps the most moving service I've ever attended. Hundreds of people from different faiths, different backgrounds, different demographics, and different economic levels all came together to offer prayers for the Haitian people. A magnificent choir, several wonderful soloists, and the cathedral organ added even more beauty to the event.
Wonderful music. Moving remarks by the ambassador. An inspiring homily by the presiding bishop. The light of hundreds of candles in the dimmed cathedral. Inspirational prayers and readings from the Old and New Testaments. The hopes and prayers of a diverse congregation merging into a single petition to God - save, restore, and nourish the people of Haiti. Each of those pieces came together to form a single picture of how tragedy - and hope - can bring the people of the world together.
But through it all, I've been wondering one thing: why does it take a tragedy like the Haitian earthquake to make the world take action as one? The problems in Haiti - homelessness, poverty, hunger, lack of education - have been persistent there for years; they are present here in the United States and Europe and India and all points around the world. To their credit, there are groups, individuals, and foundations that have been working for years to address the problems here at home and abroad.
But there's no large, unified effort on any of them - and the problems persist. As the Haitian tragedy has shown, the world can tackle any problem when it comes together and puts its collective mind, heart, spirit, and resources together to that end. So why doesn't it? Why can't the nations of the world come together to fight hunger, illness and poverty, in its many forms and locations? Is it because we find it easier to deal with problems outside our borders rather than face those in the next street, the next city, the next state? Is it because the nations allow their pride, their self-assuredness, or their stubbornness to get in the way of what truly matters?
Or is it because even now, in the 21st century, we as fellow travelers through this life with billions of other people still haven't discovered what it is that truly matters: loving our neighbors as ourselves.