FD says to me, “Maybe I’ll go to Haiti. They need doctors there. Some of the guys at the hospital are talking about it.”
I nod. I want to make a joke, “What would you eat?”*
But I don't.
The New York Times delivers meta-messages, news about news, The World News Media Enters Port-Au-Prince and on the radio, from Port-Au-Prince, Carry Kahn reports:
Buildings of cement and steel are still standing, masses on the move, huge buildings fall over on cars and other buildings, people sleeping on the streets, the sounds of shovels, screams, cries, Help me. Help me. Pillows, cushions, make-shift beds, and then an aftershock, another jolt, more chaos as if this weren't enough.Oy vey.
I drop off FD at work, head over to Jewel for groceries, flick on the radio. That intro to Viva La Vida, I Used to Rule the World by ColdPlay wakes me up, makes me happy. This is refreshing, for all morning long I've listened while making lunches, straightening up, getting dressed, the numbers are impossible, they make 9-11 a minor-league player, nature is the real terrorist and there's nothing, no scanner that can stop her. Thousands upon thousands.
A home now a hovel, children stand on rooftops, the ones that remain, looking around, dazed, people push wheelbarrows full of other people, the smells of death, dust, destruction. This is the largest earthquake to hit Haiti in 200 years, a 7.2 on the Richter.
The Richter is a logarithmic scale, FD tells me in the car, and my almost 21-year old physics-major son reiterates this as we bring in the groceries.
A text to my youngest son:
Am in the car. Can u help w/ groceries?
The night before:
One of my doctoral students works in Haiti, on hiatus in New York for her doctorate. She calls me as I walk in the front door, but I don't recognize the caller ID and she is babbling incoherently. Must slow her down. "Who is this again?"
"Did you hear?” she cries, breathlessly.
“Everyone I work with! The entire agency!"
(This is a social service agency.) "No one has heard from them. I won’t be able to concentrate in class if I make it to class at all.”
Class is online. We'll pray, I tell her. We understand.
They’re sorting through the rubble. I lecture for almost 2 hours about research questions and hypotheses, finding meaning in inquiry, being clear about change, how to measure it.
Reality check. Viva la vida means Long live life. For the first time, on my way to the store, I catch some of the words of the song!
I used to rule the worldIt's a pretty sad song, self-deprecating if not abnegating, spouts the wisdom of having lived beyond I live for me, why wouldn't I, the cocky confidence of youth and omnipotence, having the world by the tail. Ruling rocks, for sure, like rock stars do.
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemies' eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing
Now the old king is dead, long live the king
One minute I held the key
Next the walls are closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand
So what, cuz I'm a rockstar, go the lyrics to another song, I'm a rock star. Pink is one of these people, so what, who cares, in your face. My five-year old grandson introduced me to that video, identifying with the chutzah, the so what, the how should I know?. But you don't have to be a rock star is the truth, to have that omnipotence, a high that some people, certainly not all of us, feel as adolescents, or rock stars, the young, the strong. It's a feeling that is punctuated with acting out and careless, risk-taking behavior, cuz hell, you rule.
Depletion precipitates a low, the very normal depressive drop of serotonin, so much bopping around. Until it is gone. You think you rule the world, and then you don't, nothing to do with earthquakes.
Quick story, a composite of many, with a happy ending:
Guy in his forties by now.
Had strength, good looks, intelligence, even as a little boy, surely as an adolescent. More than a little wild in his youth, takes nothing from no one, no criticism, no orders. Doesn't care about school, drinks and parties, women come easy. He continues to rule into his twenties.
Bad health takes him down several notches, but he beats it, eventually. Even so, in the years of fighting biology loses his mojo, never quite lives pain free. Seeks out illicit drugs for the pain and these are easy to find. His doctors won't prescribe the narcotics he wants, they know his history.
Years of self-medicating with whatever people give other people on the streets, alone, homeless, wakes up one day in rehab, the family is trying to help. You want to save your kid, believe he is worth saving.
He takes a job, can't cut it, too much pain. Finds his way to me, depressed and for all intents and purposes, catatonic.
I tell the story because this is how it is for so many. Most of us can't rule the world forever. A biological, if not sociological, ecological reality, there will be a drop. What goes up, must come down. Then we work do the brush ourselves off, pick ourselves up, start all over again thing.
But there's a post script to the story! Although it's been years, I get cards on occasion, he keeps up with me, and wouldn't you know, is married, has a doting spouse and a kid he adores. He's doing well, despite the chronic pain, sits at a desk job, sells something, maybe magazines, and although his partner makes more than he does, she apparently couldn't care less, loves him for who he is, a person he's still finding.
Of course he goes to meetings, has found serenity, always a good thing, whatever it is called, peace, equilibrium, his way, is working a program like many people at TSR one of your better recovery websites.
And you have to wonder, you know, if he sings that song, viva la vida.
*This is a reference to kosher food. People from my tribe have to figure out how we'll eat when we go on vacation.
I liked this one better than the band's original video.