The suffering and trauma left in the wake of last year's tsunami in Southeast Asia, our own hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, the earthquake in Kashmir, and the mud slides of Central America, cannot be ignored. But none of these were man-made acts that we can attempt to eradicate, like terrorism or the brutality of tyrants.
These were natural events -- cataclysmic to be sure, but an expected by-product of life on an ever-changing and unstable planet. We can certainly improve on our ability to prepare for them, and the speed and intensity of our response to the victims, but for all our brainpower and technological sophistication, we cannot prevent their occurrence.
To emotionally cope with their aftermath, we can reframe the tragedy of events by a focus on how disasters can bring out the best in our often flawed human race.
We can look to conservative, white-only Texas towns that opened their arms, and their hearts, to poverty-stricken African Americans fleeing the floods of New Orleans.
We can stand astonished but proud at the gifts of food and shelter and support that the semi-hippies of the Rainbow Coalition brought to stricken right-wing citizens in small Mississippi towns.
We can look around a football stadium where donors stood in line to give whatever they could.
We can bow our heads in awe before the families who opened up their homes to those who had nothing left.
We can salute the volunteers who took food, water, blankets and generators to devastated areas, moving faster and with more commitment than the reluctant minions of the Federal Government.
We all lead lives rife with potentialities. It takes certain conditions, combined with inner decisions, to convert them into realities. The best of us, staring destruction, anguish, and utter desolation in the face, rise to the occasion. From banal, self-centered, unremarkable lives, we seize the chance to become more than we have been, to harness our own promise, to dare the heroic.
Disasters provide us with unique opportunities. It is not that we wish anyone pain but suffering is part of life. When it happens, it brings darkness to its victims but also the chance for fellow men to kindle a new and brighter light that enriches our species, our spirits, and our future.