The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 13, 2008

We are all in this together

By Jeff Mullin, Commentary

We’re nothing like them, these people who live on the other side of the world.

They look different, have odd names and speak a language we can’t hope to understand.

Our forms of government are different, as well. They live under authoritarian rule, while we are proud of our democracy and fiercely protective of our freedom.

They can’t be anything like us, they are just too different.

That’s why we hold them at arm’s length. We consider them, if not enemies, exactly, then potential adversaries, to be sure. More than likely, they think about us the same way, if they think about us at all.

And then we see the pictures of them digging through the rubble of their lives, in the wake of a cyclone, in the aftermath of an earthquake. Suddenly, places like Myanmar, Dujiangyan and Chengdu become household words.

They are different from us, but they react much the same as we do when confronted by devastating events like the Picher tornado.

The shocked looks on the faces of those surveying the detritus of a lifetime piled in the rubble of what used to be a dwelling place look painfully familiar.

The tears streaming down the faces of parents as they cope with the knowledge their beloved son or daughter never will come home touches our hearts.

They don’t live like us, they don’t think like us, they don’t worship like us, if they worship at all. But they love like us, they hurt like us, they bleed like us.

Tragic events like the cyclone that devastated Myanmar and the earthquake that rocked China are the great equalizer, cutting across all social, economic and political strata.

It is a shame it takes horrible events like those aforementioned to point out just how much we have in common with people who live half a world away.

We are not alike, in so many ways, but in terms of life’s most basic elements, we are identical.

We value our lives, we cling to our comfortable routines. We want only the best for ourselves and our families. Our nation’s place in the geo-political landscape really has no effect on our everyday lives. We are not the government, after all, we are individuals.

The sound of child wailing for his mother, or of parents weeping over a lost child, knows no language barrier.

Mankind inflicts far too much violence upon itself, in large wars and small regional conflicts. We shed more than enough blood under tragic circumstances of our own making.

But when nature becomes involved, we see death and destruction on a grand and horribly epic scale. The cyclone in Myanmar has killed somewhere between 62,000 and 100,000 people, depending on whose estimates you believe. The toll from China’s earthquake is at 12,000 and climbing steadily.

We human beings have developed a fearsome capacity for wreaking destruction upon one another, but we are mere babes in arms when stacked up against natural disasters.

In the end, we are no different from them at all, these people half a world away. We all bleed, we all mourn, we all cry, we all shake our fists in frustration and cry, “Why?” —whether in Sichuan province or in Picher, Okla.

In the end, we dry our tears, bury our dead, wrap our sorrow in memories and tuck it away in a special place we visit mainly in the dead of night or the struggling light of early morning. In the end, in the aftermath of tragedy, we get back to our lives.

And maybe, just maybe, we take a step closer to realizing we are all in this together.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle.