Obá Oriaté Miguel W. Ramos, Ilarí Obá
Given the many painful episodes that we faced in 2005, many of us will probably look back to this year as one of the most difficult and frustrating years of this new millennium, one that began scarcely five years ago. Humanity has been rocked by numerous phenomena, natural and man made, that cannot but have repercussions on the entire planet, regardless of our social, religious, or political ideologies—or lack thereof. Though we in the United States did not suffer anywhere near as much as the people in Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Middle East, we, too, were hurt profoundly, physically and psychologically, by the number of disasters that struck at our very foundations.
2005 will probably go down on record for being one of the most disturbing years ever. The tsunami that struck Indonesia in December 2004, killing thousands of people, was probably an eerie warning of the perils that would follow in 2005. We suffered losses to earthquakes, hurricanes, northeasters, floods, suicide attacks, and wars. Our side of the world began to agonize when hurricane season began on June 1. Surprisingly early in the season, an unusual number of hurricanes began causing havoc in the Caribbean, killing people in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Granada, México, Central America, and other areas.
By the third month of the season, disastrous storms were knocking at the door of the United States. Katrina, Rita, and Wilma caused millions of dollars in damages and took innumerable lives—in the United States, where these things are not supposed to happen! These storms did more than cause property damage and loss of life, though: many of us were brought to the stark realization that our own government—the one we trust in so dearly—was not properly prepared to deal with such devastation. After the September 11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the countless lives that we continue to lose in that process, it is only natural that we question the government’s lack of preparedness, especially in the light of its response to Hurricane Katrina, which was by no means a game of golf! After seeing the very vivid and harsh scenes that came out of the New Orleans Convention Center, the look of anguish and despair on the peoples’ faces, and the utter destruction caused by the hurricane and the authorities’ lack of planning, one is left to wonder what would have happened if this had been a terrorist attack. Unfortunately, in the middle of the blame game, some shrugged it off, saying that “it was only nature.” Or was it?
At the risk of sounding overly pessimistic, with the arrival of 2006 we need to ponder on the direction that we as human beings are taking. Probably starting around the era of the Industrial Revolution, human beings have occasioned a considerable imbalance in our universe owing to our technological advancement and so-called progress. There is little doubt that we have become the planet’s major stressor. The threat of global warming and massive climactic change no longer seems to be a remote possibility: we may be starting to notice its effects. Hurricanes, tornadoes, northeasters, earthquakes, sudden floods, tsunamis, epidemics such as HIV, and pandemics such as bird flu seem to be more menacing realities than suicide bombers, terrorists, or nuclear weapons. Obviously, we should not minimize the threat that these represent to our society and our way of life, but we cannot afford to naively focus exclusively on these human menaces and dismiss or ignore nature’s wrath in the hope that science will resolve it.
Based on the overwhelming number of natural phenomena we continue to see, coupled with the high incidence in bacteriological and viral mutations, many cannot help but feel that the entire planet is on a course for some sort of massive change. The scariest thought is that our position in that change is hard to establish, especially given the planet’s history of eliminating its stressors. Will we be the next dinosaurs? We should not be so arrogant as to think that we can continue to play with nature and not suffer any repercussions. Nature has proven repeatedly that though she may be slow to act, her wrath is inevitable. We should never underestimate her.
On the bright side, though, we must be thankful for the many things that we have accomplished in 2005. Undoubtedly, all of us have memories from this year that we shall always cherish. As in other years, in 2005 we laughed and cried. We celebrated life and we suffered and withstood loss. In fact, our celebration and veneration of life and all its precious worth is no doubt the force that allowed us to tolerate the assault of pain, loss, desolation, and death. No matter how dark the clouds; no matter how much the wind blew or gyrated, and despite the ocean’s roaring and the earth’s shaking, we came through in 2005 and continue onward.
In addition, we came together as a people and contributed to helping those that were in desperate need. Donations from Hollywood’s celebrities were bountiful, but as far as I am concerned, the most appreciated gifts came from the common everyday people, from those who have to sweat daily to earn their well-deserved salaries. The more remarkable champions of 2005 were the normal people, the great and silent majority that does not have its name up on the big screen and will never receive an Oscar or a Nobel Peace Prize. The true heroes of 2005 are those people who took out of their pockets and gave willingly, regardless of the amount; those who gave their effort and contributed their time—our most valuable and scarcest resource—to aid those who were in despair. These people no doubt brightened the difficult and gloomy days that we faced in 2005 by comforting and assisting those who were less fortunate.
Regardless of our religious affiliation—or lack thereof—we must appreciate our greatest gift: life. Many were not as fortunate. For obvious reasons, it just seems that in 2005 there were quite a few deaths. Let us never forget those who passed in 2005: those who succumbed to nature as well as those who succumbed to human cruelty, incomprehension, and greed. Let us especially remember our loved ones, our friends, our neighbors. They, too, are our heroes and deserve our praise.
A few nights ago, a friend commented that he always avoided discussing religion and politics. Unfortunately, we live in an era where neutrality is not necessarily the best option. Our times are turbulent and difficult, and our leaders often do not represent the ideas or wishes of the majority, instead choosing to follow personal, selfish, and ill-thought policies that affect us all, no matter what our views may be. Nonetheless, in spite of its current turmoil and our leaders’ shortcomings, one thing we need to appreciate in 2005 is the fact that we live in a country where we can still enjoy a degree of freedom, self-respect, and self-dignity; where with hard work we can access the basic necessities, and often much more; where despite of the will of a few, we can still voice our opinion and complain when we disagree with our government’s policies. It is important that we appreciate these rights; it is even more important that we defend them and ensure that these never change.
In closing, I have one request this year that I hope does not fall on deaf ears: no matter what your religious beliefs—whether you follow the teachings of Yahweh, Krishna, Allah, Obatalá, Jesus, Buddha, Allan Kardec, the Dalai Lama, Tao, or Confucius—and even those who have no belief at all; let us all raise a white flag in the name of peace. Place it where others can see it: in our doorways, on our roofs, on fire-escapes or television satellite dishes. Let us all unite in this action and by so doing pray to the Supreme Being, to nature, or to human reasoning. Let us request that humanity be illuminated and acquire reason; that we understand our place in the universe and the delicate balance of nature—and the need to maintain that balance.
When we raise our flag, let us all take a second to reflect on 2005 and to reflect on the future, ours and our descendants’, and in so doing think about what we as individuals can do to ensure that we have a future and make this future a better place for all humankind. If we do nothing else in our own lifetime, let us at least ensure that we leave a place where those who follow can have the same opportunity that was given to us by those who came before us: the chance to live.