Monday, December 27, 2004

Nobody's Dream Vacation

We have taken some wonderful vacations as a family and as a couple. Back in 2001, Steve and I asked a friend who is a travel agent to help us plan a tenth anniversary trip. She booked us an unforgettable getaway at the Wyndham El Conquistador Resort in Las Croabas, Puerto Rico. Massages, poolside drinks, floating in the warm and welcoming ocean made the seven or eight days pass remarkably quickly. Twice in the next two years we returned with our children to that colorful, relaxing, and beautiful sanctuary on the north east tip of that American protectorate. To watch the children float in the salty sea, pick up sea shells, build sand castles, and experience the thrill of hibachi cooking up close was the stuff of legendary vacationing for me. We would all love to return for a third trip, but this year’s family escape will be to an island of an entirely different sort.

We will spend 12 days on the Island of Great Britain in March. I have never seen London, but Steve lived there for three and a half months during our college days. He’s been threatening to take me there for years now, and finally our time has come. As much as I look forward to seeing the home of William Shakespeare, Princess Diana, and Colin Firth, I will miss the beach combing, pina coladas, and overpriced sarongs at the El Conquistador. My real dream would be to experience Puerto Rico's welcome and warmth in the coldest months of the year. The thought of sunbathing in December, applying sunscreen in January, and drinking Rum and Coke in February rather than hot rum toddies is quite intoxicating indeed.

So when I think of yesterday’s tragic tsunami in South west Asia, I am all the more heartbroken. While I am would be the first to admit that I cannot imagine watching a 30 foot wave wash over the beach as my children played catch with a beach ball, I can certainly imagine sitting on the beach with my eyes closed and my hand gripping an ice cold bottle of water. I can certainly imagine sitting the deck of a small beach bungalow reading a senseless novel with Steve rides a Sea-Doo out in the surf. The unimaginable horror of opening my eyes and seeing the tumultuous sea consume my family whole or in part is exactly that – unimaginable.

My mind is full of questions that I wish no one ever had to answer, but I know that many who walk those poisoned and polluted lands tonight are living out the gruesome and dreadful answers to these queries. What is it like for that Swedish mother I read about who had wandered for hours looking for her husband and children? What is it like for the resort owner who said that nearly 200 guest bungalows had been washed out to sea? What is it like for the residents of those low-lying islands who have lost everything and everyone they hold dear? What was it like to survive those thunderously loud waves and then be left standing – or lying – on a beach with absolutely no idea what happened, where you are or anyone else is, or how you will get back to where you had been staying – if that place even still exists? What is it like to be a tourist scouring the beaches searching for the body of the beloved spouse, for any remnants of your life, and hoping that someday soon you will be able to return to your country of origin? What is it like for the residents of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Maldives, Thailand, and even far away Somalia whose lives were already at poverty level to have lost what meager means they had? What will the coming days and weeks bring to that devastated region of the world?

Yesterday afternoon after finding out about the earthquake, the tsunami, and the rising death toll on the Internet, I ran to the television hoping to hear more news, to get more information. To my horror, there was nothing on television about it. Hours and hours of football games. Basketball games. Game shows. Cooking shows. Makeover shows. Stories about celebrities who struggle with eating disorders and weight gain. Reruns of television shows that were pointless the first time around. But other than the occasional tag line racing along the bottom of the screen, there was nothing about what must be one of the worst natural disasters in the world in 50 years. Nothing. Around 11 PM, there was a brief blurb on the weather channel. I was angry. I was very angry. Why isn’t something this catastrophic worthy of preempting a football game? Why aren’t the deaths of tens of thousands of people more important than whether or not such-and-such a movie met some ridiculously high expected box office goal? Who needs another Ab Lounger when so many people are dying with their stomachs empty? Maybe if we weren’t so obsessed with filling our already oversized bellies, we’d have more time to care more about what is going on in the world around us. If there were another fist fight at an NBA game, every channel would tune in and show the melee forty or fifty times in a row, so what is our problem? Don’t we care that more than 22,000 lost their lives in about an hour yesterday?

But this is a wake-up call for me too. Thousands of people die everyday from starvation, war, illness, abuse, and countless other causes. I ought to weep for all of them. I ought to be more mindful of the needs and wants of others everyday. I cannot cry my way through every day, but I ought to be more alert to the crises, more willing to send aid when and where I can, and always to be in prayer for compassionate doctors and nurses who know no boundaries or borders, for food, clothing, and other provision given by those of us who can help, and for mercy, for safety, and for comfort in these dark and difficult moments.

Tonight and for many days to come, my thoughts and prayers will be with the people of those water-ravaged nations. Kyrie Eleison: Lord, have mercy.

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