Catastrophes point out just how good we have it

Suburbanites rarely suffer like those who live in other parts of the world. This column reaches into our plush lives to find a shred of common ground with the folks affected by the Myanmar cyclone or China earthquakes. The best way to maintain our humility and thankfulness for our good lives is to realize how crappy it can be for others.

  • Friday, May 30, 2008 12:39pm
  • Life

Suburbanites rarely suffer like those who live in other parts of the world. This column reaches into our plush lives to find a shred of common ground with the folks affected by the Myanmar cyclone or China earthquakes. The best way to maintain our humility and thankfulness for our good lives is to realize how crappy it can be for others.

For starters, the next time you’re waiting patiently because a road crew has shut down one lane of a two-lane road, think about how long people have to wait when a natural disaster completely washes away their roads. We sit there praying that the 45-year-old woman with the blond hair and the half-eaten Subway sandwich on the curb behind her gets the magical message from her walkie-talkie to flip her sign from “stop” to “slow,” so that we can pick up the pieces of our lives and put the car in drive.

That’s nothing compared to the delay experienced when the interstate’s been washed out to sea, and you’ve got to put your kids in a rowboat just to get them to soccer practice.

Earthquakes are not uncommon in the U.S. But thanks to our building standards, it’s rare that we’ll have to climb out of piles of rubble the way people might in other countries.

Think about how lucky you are to have such standards the next time you reach into your refrigerator and accidentally knock down a stacked tower of yogurts. Or perhaps you topple a ketchup bottle, which then knocks over the mayonnaise, which in turn slides the lid off of last night’s turkey-meatloaf. It can frustrate you to no end to have to rebuild the food infrastructure of your refrigerator. Just imagine if it were a flimsy skyscraper instead!

Perhaps one of the most tragic aspects of a disaster is when a country’s government prevents food or medical care from reaching its own people.

Last week, when I was at Trader Joe’s, I couldn’t get anyone to check in the back to see if they had more fruit leathers. I desperately wanted them, but the members of the military junta who control the place in eerily matching Hawaiian shirts kept saying, “All we’ve got is what’s on the shelves.”

The next time you have to sit there and be lied to by some shelf stocker who is too lazy to go pull out your favorite dried-fruit snack from the back, because it would mean having to unpack everything else that came in with that shipment, just think of how tough it is to get a military dictatorship to send a few boxes of rice to your province.

I don’t think we’ll ever truly know the suffering of those affected by such disasters, but if we look a bit within our own lives, we can at least kinda feel a bit of empathy … sort of.

~Jeremy Greenberg is a writer, comedian and resident of Kirkland. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Relative Discomfort: The Family Survival Guide (Andrews McMeel). Learn more at www.jeremygreenberg.com.

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