I am torn about blogging tonight. Earlier in the week I had a plan. I was going to recommend three of the movies I saw over the holidays. Suddenly I can't even tell you what they were.
We generally steer the convertible clear of the heavy stuff, but there's nothing else on my mind tonight. The images from Haiti are heartbreaking. We're mostly about storytelling here, and one of the weird things about writers is that we observe almost everything from two perspectives at once--the person we are and the person who might tell this story.
Seeing pictures of a place that has suddenly, only hours ago, been utterly destroyed, and seeing those pictures on the screen that often entertains me with pictures that look much the same, and living as I do at any give time in one quite comfortable real world and one fantasy world that is totally within my control, I am hard-pressed to conceive of all those bodies being real. I've seen that kind of destruction before on this screen. Anything that horrific is done with special effects. Isn't it?
The numbers are inconceivable. The aerial photographs and films are the very definition of unreal. But the faces of the survivors are not. The people walking the streets of Port-au-Prince look dazed. Numb. Clearly the devastation seems no more believable up close than it is from far away. That could be anyone. That woman could be me. That child could be my grandchild. What happened? Where am I? Where everyone and everything I know?
I turn my attention to the reporters and the commentators who are charged with finding a way to tell this story to the world, and I am back in my element. I'm looking for truth. Show me what's happening. Some reporters are better than others, and I have to skip around, get the view from up high and down low, put pieces together so I can get a picture of what's going on, what might be done to help, what might happen in the days ahead.
And then I happen upon the worst kind of storytelling. It's the Big Lie being passed off as a "true story" by someone given access to the airwaves by people who accept him as an expert in his field. Pat Robertson's "true story" is that Haitian slaves made "a pact with the devil" 200 years ago when they rebelled against the French, and that this week's earthquake is just one more disaster that is the ultimate price of freedom and the victory over slavers. Oh. My. God.
Within the last 24 hours many people have condemn Robertson's TV comment. As a storyteller, it's the "true story" claim that bothers me the most. What's happening in Haiti now is real, and it's horrifying, and it's tragic. There are many prayers and promises being made by the survivors. People are offering all kinds of desperate deals, making all manner of curses. This might become the stuff of legend, but it is not the basis of history. Any teacher, reporter, commentator or minister who makes that claim now or 200 years from now should lose his lectern. And I suspect if God were going to punish people for crimes against humanity that their ancestors committed 200 years ago, many of us would be left wondering what hit us.
Storytellers owe us the truth. I write novels. Every book tells the reader right up front that it's a work of fiction, and that's the truth. Within my fiction, I treat legend as legend, and I do not twist history. If a storyteller takes any liberties--fudging on a date or using a real person in a fictitious situation--the storyteller is obliged to say so. Even in a novel!
I commend Rachel Maddow for following up her interview with a Haitian diplomat (who touched on the Robertson comment) with a short history lesson about the Haitian slave uprising and what followed throughout the Western Hemisphere. I remember a little bit about Simon Bolivar, but I was prompted to refresh my memory. Prompted to seek some real knowledge of a neighboring people who are suffering and have been suffering, prompted to point out their country on the map and look up earthquakes with my grandchildren, who ask only, "Who's going to take care of those children?" And since it's almost President's Day, I offer them a bit of American history. "Here on earth, God's work must truly be our own." (JFK)