Monday, November 12, 2012

After Disaster

After disasters, people loot and riot, right? Well, apparently not. I was interested to read this blog post about a book that argues otherwise, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster.
"Author Rebecca Solnit takes a close look at disasters including earthquakes, floods, and explosions. She finds tragedy and grief, but something else too, something rarely noticed. During and after these horrific crises there shines from the wreckage something extraordinary.
People rise up as if liberated, regardless of their differences, to act out of deep regard for one another. They improvise, coordinate, create new social ties, and pour themselves into work that has no personal gain other than a sense of meaning. While they do this, they often express strangely transcendent feelings of joy, envisioning a greater and more altruistic community in the making. Even those suffering the most horrific misfortune often turn around to aid others and later remember it as the defining moment of their lives. This is a testament to the human spirit, as if disaster cracks us open to our better selves."
The post details ways people are helping each other in the north-east United States in response to the destruction brought by Hurricane Sandy. In Haiti after the earthquake, it was equally heartening to see the way people took care of each other. In those moments of being "cracked open," people are also often open to deep connections with other people. Many people have commented on the depth of their "earthquake friendships."  But the strain, stress, and lack of sleep can also put people's worst sides on display.  It's not just buildings and livelihoods that are destroyed in a natural disaster; people's relationships and even their very sense of themselves can be, too. 

Solnit apparently draws conclusions about human nature (I haven't read her book). My conclusions about human nature are that people are capable of the most terrible atrocities and the most stunning goodness. I believe both in total depravity and in the indelible image of God on every human being. I think of the words in Prince Caspian: "'You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,' said Aslan. 'And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.'"

Lately I have the sense that all the time, somewhere, people are recovering from a disaster, sleeping wherever there is a space, gathering new belongings to replace the ones that are gone.  Creating new lives, too, the "new normal" everyone kept telling me about after the earthquake.  Cracked open, vulnerable, at their worst and their best.


Janet said...

"Lately I have the sense that all the time, somewhere, people are recovering from a disaster..."

Yes. Or that people are being hurt somewhere. I haven't found a good way to deal with it yet, though.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post Ruth. It was what I needed this morning. Vicky Butler