Adversity can bring out the best or the worst in people. The earthquake experienced here this past spring was no exception. I certainly saw more of the worst in myself than I normally want to show the rest of the world. The level of fear of the very real possibility of death was one I had never felt before. Worries about obtaining food and enough clean water to stay healthy nagged at me persistently in the first few weeks after the biggest quake. Trying to make decisions such as “where can we sleep where there is the least likelihood of dying but have a reasonable chance of enough comfort to actually sleep?” seemed simultaneously absurd and terrifying. Trying to keep scared children happy and entertained forced me to put on an optimistic mask that I rarely don even in the best of times. But that mask frequently cracked, and the exhaustion and tension that were constants would show up in bouts of irritability, inertia, and weeping.
I saw others whose fear and uncertainty drove them into a hoarding mode. Some people took an “every man for himself” stance. There were instances of shopkeepers taking relief supplies to sell for a profit instead of distributing them freely as was intended. Some stories were worse – people took advantage of the communal living spaces to rob and sexually assault the vulnerable displaced people. The worst of humanity was uncovered.
They were among those who drew from inside themselves their very best qualities to help others in a trying time. Immediately following the first earthquake, they went into a generous, community-minded mode.
- Our teenage boys spontaneously helped construct tents of bamboo and plastic tarps which sheltered more than a hundred people.
- Our girls passed out watermelon and fresh water to our neighbors gathered in the field by our house.
- When debris clogged a sewer drainage pipe causing sewage to seep out into the field where so many were living, it was one of our boys who voluntarily took the unsavory task of unclogging it.
Our girls pitched in with preparing and cooking food and washing the dishes that fed not only our family but our neighbors as well. They never complained when they had to share a living room floor with a dozen or more neighbors who were too scared to sleep in their own homes. And as our own lives started to settle down a bit, the kids’ generosity went a step even further as they enthusiastically joined in relief efforts.
- Some donated blood.
- Some moved rubble.
- Some packaged food and tarps.
Many were willing to accompany their dads, Kent and Rajendra, on trips to remote areas where people were stranded without shelter and food to distribute supplies. The kids’ bravery and compassion are even more remarkable in light of the traumas and tragedies they have already survived – their own personal stories of death and deprivation, hunger, loss and homelessness. While it could be expected and understood if the earthquake reopened these wounds and left them in a defensive mode of self-preservation, instead I witnessed the very best in them come to the forefront in altruistic action. How did this occur? Where did this will to help come from? I wonder if perhaps knowing so many like you, our donors, have rallied to their aid in their own time of need has helped them to find the strength of character to likewise reach out to others. Whatever the cause, it has been a privilege to see the resilience of their spirits and to watch them embody love and compassion in this difficult time.