Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Far from Kyrgyzstan

This morning, I read a news report about unrest in Kyrgystan, a small Central Asian country which happens to host a strategically important American air base. I also learned more about the dire situation in West Virginia, where 25 miners have already died and four more are missing after a horrific explosion. In the midst of this bad news, E. and I went for a walk along Miami Beach.

The beach shimmered beneath a cloudless sky. Bathers enjoyed the warm surf, and a couple of colorful parasails hovered above the water. Further offshore, I could see huge tankers awaiting clearance to enter the Port of Miami. Even Miami's real estate woes seemed far away. As we walked on the lovely beach-side boardwalk, we passed the new W Hotel and, nearby, saw several other buildings under construction.

The story about Kyrgyzstan had particularly caught my eye because a friend of my son went there a few years ago as a Peace Corps volunteer. He left after several months, however, when it became apparent that the local school teacher whom he had been assigned to assist planned to enjoy a prolonged vacation while his American "assistant" did his job for him. Disillusioned, my son's friend resigned from the Peace Corps and came back to the states. His experience is virtually the only thing I know about Kyrgyzstan. Yet that extremely tenuous connection was enough to make me read the news of today's violent events with interest and concern.

Even though it's part of my own country, West Virginia might as well be on another planet, so vague is my knowledge of the state. I've never been there and I don't know a soul who lives there, unless you count Senator Jay Rockefeller, whom I sat next to at a dinner party over 20 years ago. He actually lives in Washington, anyway. Despite my lack of ties to the state, I felt horrible hearing about the mine explosion and the terrible loss of life.

It's a truism to say that we humans simply can't absorb all the misery of the world and still function. A survival instinct causes us to detach ourselves when despair becomes overwhelming. Still, as I walked along the gorgeous beach, luxuriating in the sun and surf, I couldn't help but be surprised at how easily I tuned out the bad news and enjoyed the beautiful day.

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