Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The following was written by my good friend and fellow Freemason, Willy Gutman. I hope his observations make as much of an impression on my readers as they did on me.
Once upon a time in Haiti
W. E. Gutman
I first visited Haiti in 1960. I had left New York on a dismal gray January morning and arrived in Port-au-Prince a week later aboard a cruise ship. Mesmerized by the emerald profusion of tropical greenery that stretched before me, rapt by the turquoise sea that shimmered like liquid gemstones, I noticed little as a taxi whisked me away from the wharf up to the opulent hilltop Castel Haiti Hotel.
During lunch, I crossed paths with bejeweled women, most of them painted to camouflage the ravages of time. I mingled among sweet-smelling, self-important men in crème safari suits and white suede shoes. I engaged in small talk and endured the frivolous banter common to carefree, urbane vacationers. Wealth, influence, power, all vied for attention as fragrant wines and succulent meat and seafood dishes traveled on silver trays balanced by white-gloved black lackeys. Such ostentation, I remarked, must be evidence of great virtue, the well-deserved entitlements of the just, the righteous, the uncorrupted.
I was 23.
A second visit a year later put an end to the idyllic portrait my unfocused young eyes had hastily painted. Instead of taking a taxi, I walked to town. At the end of the quay, where the uncorrupted never venture, I was accosted by a mob of half-naked, pint-sized beggars -- children with bloated bellies, herniated navels and runny noses. With one hand stretched for a hand-out, the other fanning away swarms of flies, they tugged at my sleeves, hung by my shoulders like grapes from a trellis and wailed in unison:
“Mister, penny, bread, please?”
In the stifling shade of an abandoned building, young boys in tatters sniffed glue. Further on, resting on a bed of filthy rags near an open sewer, a woman slept with an infant at her breast while an older child, disheveled, wiping an ever-running nose on her sleeve, begged for scraps of food. A few meters away, under a clear sky black with vultures, I found toddlers and young teens feeding on garbage. Knee-deep in steaming mountains of waste and competing with the odious birds of death, another group of youngsters rummaged for a meal, a shoe, a discarded article of clothing.
Up the road, in some narrow, windswept slop-splattered alley that hugs the flanks of a church, a man writhed in drug- or booze-induced agony. Frothing at the mouth, his eyes on fire, he crumbled to the ground and let out a blood-curdling shriek. Wallowing in waste, he clawed at the demons that tormented him. Thrashing about, he rolled into the gutter and narrowly missed being hit by a passing car. Safe in their pews, the faithful were being treated to the grand spectacle of a mid-day mass. Dominus vobiscum, said the priest. Et cum spiritu tuo, the faithful responded, unmindful of the pervading godlessness that surrounded them.
Around the corner, a group of cripples flaunted their grotesque infirmities. Unruffled, passers-by stepped over them like so much debris. Across the street, a young woman breast-fed her newborn as three older daughters plied the beggar’s trade.
Alien to this netherworld, I wondered what monstrous sins its denizens had committed to be cursed with such inexplicable fate. Who are the mad, I reflected, and who are the meek who inherit the wind? As I pondered the question, I suddenly found myself in a world of pastel mansions, neatly manicured lawns and late-model American cars driven by elegantly attired light-skinned Haitians.
The distance between Gehenna and paradise, I would later learn as I began to cover Central America and the Caribbean Basin, is short and littered with galling incongruities, shameful disparities. Here the crinoline and batiste and gabardine of a small elite of ruling families; there the rags and tatters and empty stomachs of an indigent and superfluous majority.
An attractive, fashionably dressed elderly creole woman sporting a Parisian accent with whom I had struck a conversation whispered parenthetically, “You know, many of us believe we were better off under the French.”
I could not have been more outraged had an African American claimed that his people had been better off under Jim Crow.
Fifty years later -- twenty of them spent reporting from the beast’s entrails -- nothing has changed. Don’t look for justice, I kept telling myself all that time. Don’t look for civility. All you will find are nature, cruel and unmoved, and the aggregate interests and tirelessly replenished assets of the dominant power base.
Last I heard, the eight-story Castel Haiti , once the romper room of the rich and famous is now a pile of rubble. And, once again, nature, unpredictable and impartial, made short shrift of the aristocracy and the rabble in one blind, raging merciless and devastating blow from which this, the poorest nation in our hemisphere, is unlikely to recover.
W. E. Gutman is a widely published veteran journalist and author. He lives in Southern California
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Yesterday I was in Los Angeles attending a meeting of Worshipful Lodge Aletheia. As usual, it was a memorable day and I had the pleasure of meeting three recent initiates to the lodge, one of whom I was present at her blind-fold interview last September. At the meeting the Almoner's collection was entirely set aside for Haitian relief. Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Haiti.
The following is from an email that I received regarding assistance to Haiti since the recent earthquake:
OFFICIAL NOTICE FROM
GRAND LODGE OF THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, INC.
SUPREME COUNCIL 33RD DEGREE, INC.
MASONIC CENTER FOR COLLECTION OF
HUMANITARIAN AID FOR HAITI
Starting January 13, 2010, the Masonic Center for Collection of Humanitarian Aid for Haiti is established at the building of the Grand Lodge of the Dominican Republic, Inc., where brethren and the public-at-large may deliver their donations of non-perishable foodstuffs (rice, beans and other grains), canned food, bottled water, medicine and clothing. This contribution will be delivered through the corresponding official institutions to the needy population in our sister Republic of Haiti.
Donations may be delivered at:
Gran Logia de la República Dominicana, Inc.
Calle Arzobispo Portes No. 554 esquina Las Carreras
Ciudad Nueva, Santo Domingo, D.N.
(Publication authorized by M. Wor. Bro. Edy Federico PEÑA BARET, Grand Master, and Ill. and P. Bro. Eduardo MEJÍA JABID, Sovereign Grand Commander)
SOME IDEAS FOR YOUR DONATION FOR HAITI:
* Beans (canned)
* Sausages (canned)
* Sardines (canned)
* Tuna (canned)
* Soda crackers
* Milk in tetrapack
* Fruit juice in tetrapack
* Other non-perishable food items
* Oral rehydration Serum
* Analgesics (acetaminophen, ibuprofen)
* Elastic bandages
* Antibiotics (amoxicifiline, in suspension and/or tablets)
* Antiseptics (iodine type or chlorhexidine soap)
* Sanitary napkins
Friday, January 15, 2010
For those readers that are interested, our sister obedience, the Grande Loge Haitienne de St.-Jean will be receiving assistance from the brothers and sisters of the George Washington Union. During this time of great tragedy for the people of Haiti, our thoughts and our prayers go out to our fellow Masons and their families. I have been informed that the Vice-President of CLIPSAS will be coordinating relief efforts on the part of CLIPSAS and its member obedience's with the International Red Cross. I will post more as it becomes available.
The Grande Loge Haitienne website in the U.S. can be reached here:
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
One of the comments that I received recently called on me to to "remove the mote from my own eye."
This refers to a passage from the Bible, (Matthew, Chapter 7) in which Jesus says:
"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"
I prefer the New International Version translation:
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"
It was not my intention to infer that I am without fault. In fact, I doubt that many of us can truly say that we are living up to our standards of Masonic behavior.
There is a difference however to making mistakes and changing course, and knowingly perpetuating falsehoods and deceptions.
If someone, through their actions, has demonstrated time and again that their word does not amount to much, and that they will always take the expedient course in pursuit of their goals, how then do we consider that person to be part of the Masonic community?
Talk is cheap. So is how long someone has been recognized as being a Mason. I have seen a lot of un-masonic behavior recently. It saddens me. If my behavior has caused a brother or sister to question their involvement in Freemasonry, then I sincerely apologize.
I will continue to seek Masonic light, to the best of my ability, and let those that pretend to be Masons follow their own paths.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to discover what the ethics and values of Freemasonry are.
It also doesn't take a rocket scientist to distinguish between those who try to live by those values, and those that don't.