I spent last week cruising the Mediterranean aboard the Harmony of the Seas, the newest and largest ship in the Royal Caribbean luxury line. I toured Barcelona, ate bouillabaisse in Marseilles, saw the sites in Florence, visited St Peter’s Square in Rome, and of course ate pizza margherita in Naples, where that dish was born. My stateroom was spacious enough to do yoga inside or on the private balcony. The food on board was superb, and I won at blackjack in the casino.
Heaven, right? Well, not exactly. I couldn’t help feeling that I was avoiding the world’s real problems. Don’t get me wrong. I was able to enjoy myself. But this nagging voice kept reminding me that I was privileged, that there were bigger problems than the length of the line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica or the cab driver trying to cheat me.
Back in the USA, a close friend was in Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center awaiting a stem-cell transplant that could extend his life, or hasten its end. In the news, another school shooting took the life of kindergartner Jacob Hall, 6. Sadine Dixon, 84, was killed when a police car accidentally hit her vehicle during a high-speed chase. She was one of some 20 killed by police in the United States during my vacation. The Chicago slayings continued, averaging about two fatalities a day.
Worldwide, I can’t tell you the latest on the Battle of Aleppo, the refugee crisis, or the genocide in Myanmar, because those of us in the rest of the world seem to have lost interest in keeping track.
And then there’s the election campaign in the U.S. Fellow cruise-ship passengers from Europe tended to bring up the race and noted that the latest pronouncements from Donald Trump led the news every day in their countries. But the only Trump supporter I met during the trip was that Italian cab driver who tried to cheat me.
I missed the big debate itself, because I would have had to tune in around 4 a.m., but I felt guilty for being away. An irrational impulse told me that my country needed me home in this critical time. Maybe it stemmed from watching the movie Race in my stateroom, about Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympics during the reign of Hitler.
I felt like Nero, fiddling on a luxury liner in the Mediterranean while my home country was in danger of burning.
Am I exaggerating? Maybe. Those of us who are not starving, being bombed, or being shot at all need to make daily decisions about what we can do for those who are, and what’s OK to do for ourselves. It has always been that way, and always will. I hope the good I do outweighs my occasional hedonistic pleasures.
And the world will go on. To quote Kurt Vonnegut:
So it goes.
— Mel Pine (Urgyen Jigme)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine