Thursday, January 14, 2010



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 world
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
It'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.

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.


TechnoBabe said...

Mother Nature has a way of reminding us that we all share this home called earth, which makes us all related.

Lou said...

I have read the average age a drug addict will just quit on their own is 38 (if they make it to that age). Perhaps that is when most people realize they no longer rule the world. Their bodies catch up with their brains..or is it the other way

And I agree..tragedies highlight our connectedness.

Jack said...

I know earthquakes and I can attest to their ability to remind us just how small and inconsequential we are.

But they can bring out the best in people too.

Zan said...

We're reminded to never take life for granted.
But then tragedies pass, time heals.. and suddenly we forget, we're back to taking life for granted... until another tragedy hits.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a girl I met in recovery some time back. She was very self conscious about walking into meetings( felt like everyone was looking at her) I told her hey, you are not that important, and the rest of us alcoholics are so self absorbed, do you really think many notice? She looked at me and said, "But you don't understand, I used to be a legend."

Shattered said...

It always frightens me to watch life change in a split-second. I think of all those poor people in their lean-to homes living life the best they could and then an earthquake... It's just so very sad.

Syd said...

I would like to go and help out in Haiti as well. For some reason I feel drawn to be there.

Isle Dance said...

Why can't we just wave a magic wand and make everything better, for everyone?

(I know, I know...because then we wouldn't learn and grow. But still.)

Batya said...

Amazing post; glad about the happy ending.

porcini66 said...

I'm learning (slowly, so very slowly...) that we can't rule the world forever, but that we rise and fall, rise and fall, over and over again. Life on LIFE'S terms, not on's good to finally be growing up and seeing life as a path - full of possibilities, full of choices; never really a WRONG answer, just maybe not the BEST one sometimes...but even the worst choices lead us to learn and grow.

I'm sorry for the people in Haiti right now...and I wish there was a magic wand, too. It's good to see that the world can pull together sometimes at least. Even those with next to nothing are helping their brothers & sisters who have lost everything. I'm hoping that the relief efforts start paying off soon.

Thanks for writing, TD...

Mark said...

Thanks for sharing this story and the song. We are capable of so much more than we think and the end ... well is never really the end simply a station between stops.

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Anonymous said...

interesting read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did you hear that some chinese hacker had hacked twitter yesterday again.

therapydoc said...

Yeah, and I heard that Norton is hacked every day. It's pretty scary.

Pink Hollyhock said...

No matter what you write about, therapydoc, it's always interesting. Every post is a stabilizing gift. Thank you.

Ella said...

Did FD go to Haiti?
There are probably kosher MREs.

In any case, I think he'd get a get-out-of-hell-free pass no matter what he ate if he goes and helps. Or maybe he can cover shifts for someone who goes.

therapydoc said...

Nah, it was a should 'a , would 'a, could 'a.