Nothing like meeting a friend for a drink early in the afternoon to raise the big questions: Is this too early to start drinking? What if I stop drinking after I have this drink…OK, these drinks? Does the fact we’re having an ice storm have any effect on the moral issue here? Well, does it?
Then you think: The reason we’re meeting is, he’s leaving town tomorrow for ever and ever, so it doesn’t matter. When your friend and colleague blows town, you lift a glass. And have the spinach-artichoke dip so you don’t absorb the alcohol too fast, and then drive very carefully afterward. And I only had three. I am such a soccer mom.
It was perverse, in a way, having an ice storm on his last day in town, considering his destination: Florida. Andrew is one of those people who does not suffer winter gladly, who’s always planning his next Florida vacation, from which he returns as tan as a saddle and deeply happy. Now he’ll live in his vacation spot. Well, good luck to him. We’re both getting shut of the place when the water’s only lapping our knees. Something to toast.
Of course, one way I’m escaping the sinking ship is by jumping overboard. So that calls for another beer.
I’m glad to be home, though. The weather outside is pretty awful — sleet, snow and ice (which the TV weathercasters call “wintry mix,” making it sound like something you pass around in a bowl at cocktail parties.There’s some satisfyingly howly wind, too, which makes me grateful for a warm house. And beef stew for dinner. Mmm, you’ll never catch me moving to Florida. When would you eat beef stew?
Yesterday’s remarks about TV news touched a nerve or two, so here’s a much more cogently argued reiteration, from Minneapolis. And this WashPost piece, on the incredible smarminess of American network coverage of the tsunami, is spot-on:
The network superstars have arrived in the stricken areas, as if only by being there can they dig out the essential feel-good stories that allow Americans to reassert faith in a benign God and order and meaningfulness in the world. The print media are there, too, searching for the same scraps of redemption, but without the sentimentalizing touch of the television camera, the tone of familiarity, the relentless, oozing empathy of first-person celebrity journalism. …”If we do story after story that is nothing more than misery, there is a danger of viewers just shutting down because they can’t comprehend the enormity of it all,” said “NBC Nightly News” producer Steve Capus in yesterday’s USA Today. …Only a churl would deny anyone the consolation of hope, but this frantic drive to find heartwarming alternatives to the death and destruction seems more a symptom of the American psyche than a “fact on the ground” in the tsunami zone. We impose hope because it allows us to contain a horrific story.
Images of destruction inspire an intolerable sense of futility in those far from the catastrophe. The obvious response — to send aid — is adequate only to prevent further suffering. About the suffering that has already happened, the losses that can’t be undone, we can do nothing. Except watch for a time, until we’re numb, or bored, or angry at the repetitive misery — and then, in the back of the head, cue those violins, the sunset mood, the irrational affirmation that allows us to ring down the curtain.
And speaking of tsunamis, there’s been one aspect of this story that has, without fail for nearly two weeks now, been an instant click-away/channel-changer: The God Angle. Trying to parse the Almighty’s motives in a natural disaster just doesn’t seem … worth the time. Also, potentially infuriating, as when someone offers, “Maybe he did this to see how the rest of us would react.” That’s not a God worth worshipping, if you ask me. I’m not much of a God-botherer anymore, but I figure it all boils down to: If we understood, we wouldn’t need God in the first place. I’m reminded of a line from that great theologian, Warren Zevon: “the vast indifference of heaven.” That’s mostly how I track God these days — through perplexing indifference.
That said, I liked this Ron Rosenbaum piece in the New York Observer about the uses and abuses of theodicy, the subset of theology that wrestles with this stuff full-time: “A vindication of the justice of God in ordaining or permitting natural and moral evil,” to quote from the dictionary. (Aside: What is “natural evil,” anyway? If a tornado rages across an empty landscape, is it evil? Just wondering.)
Anyway, enjoy. I have leftover beef stew to eat for days and days! Envy me!