The bartenders at Molly's bar on Decatur Street donated all their tips to the victims of the tsunami, and anonymous benefactors matched what they raised dollar for dollar. This was a generous gesture by people who can ill afford it, but it goes to show that the tragedy in southeast Asia touched people deeply. All over the United States people opened their pocketbooks. So soon after Christmas, people still have charity in their hearts. And everybody realized, before our government did, that this was an opportunity to show people in the affected areas, many of whom are Muslims, that Americans aren't racist.
Our government was slower to figure it out. It took a U.N. official calling us "stingy" before the administration raised its contribution from $35 million to 10 times that. That was the greatest aid offer for a whole day until Japan donated $500 million. It's entirely possible that by the time you read this, every country in the world outmachoed the next and that places like Luxembourg hocked the crown jewels to end up at the top.
Well, that's all for the good, but in my book Molly's bartenders trump governments. More sincerity, less calculation. These are ineffables, of course, and what matters in the end is alleviating the suffering. The horror itself commands respectful silence, and the help is for the survivors. Outside of that, the tsunami had many side effects, including the reminder that the earth is bigger than we are and that humans are only a blip in the violent geological history of the planet. Next time Mother Earth gets pissed off she might decide to take down the West Coast of the United States.
Fighters in Sri Lanka's civil war laid down their guns to help the relief effort. News from the war in Iraq was dwarfed by the catastrophe. CNN broadcast so many stories of triumph and survival, some of us felt wrung dry emotionally, but also aware that it's a small world and that we are all in it together. In New York, there was a minute of silence before the ball dropped in Times Square. In New Orleans, the neon baby Bacchus with the 2005 sash could barely be seen through a thick fog that looked like tears. In Austin, Texas, a mechanical arm dropped a TV showing the fall of the ball in Times Square to the ground where it exploded with was called a "deep moan." The planet moaned at the start of 2005, and I, for one, don't feel so great. In the 20th century, natural catastrophes almost always accompanied human-made ones. World War I was followed by an influenza epidemic that killed more people than the war. The drought that caused the Great Depression preceded the Second World War. In my opinion, this is a good time to get all the big boys to put down their nukes and start hugging.