Family emergency

The sun and the moon and the seasons pass by so dependably that it's easy to forget we live on a rotating ball hurtling through space -- a mass of rock and liquid and gas that's still a work in progress.

It sometimes takes an earth-shaking catastrophe to remind us of that -- and of how much we allow our differences, both petty and principled, to mask the commonalities of the human family.

At times such as the killer 7.0-magnitude earthquake just miles off Haiti -- the worst there since 1770 -- all that matters is what we have in common, which is our humanity, and the need to reduce as much human suffering as quickly as humanly possible.

The extent of this tragedy is numbing. Tens of thousands are believed dead, while many others were no doubt trapped in rubble and others ambled in shock through streets piled with bodies and tearful mourners.

These calamities seem to fall disproportionately on the poorest of the poor in this world -- but the silver lining is that that frees up those of us who are capable of helping in ways large and small.

Whatever aid the U.S. government amasses, you can bet, will be met with private relief the public never hears about: charities, churches and even individuals with a heart for helping. That is the American way.

But the world is responding as well. This is, after all, an international crisis: Americans, French, Brazilians, Chinese and more are among the thousands dead and displaced in Haiti, where the capital city of Port-au-Prince is fairly well in ruins. A United Nations deployment alone may have been wiped out.

But even if it were only Haitians suffering, the world would come. We're family.

In all our angst over global warming, we no doubt have exaggerated our ability to direct this mass of metal and mineral we are riding on. At times like these, we are reminded who is in charge and that we are but hitchhikers in the galaxy.

And we should remind ourselves never to wait for the very worst to occur to be at our very best.

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