Monday, April 24, 2006

We are often challenged by people who are in need. We are challenged by beggars, by people with disabilities, by people who have disfigurements, by people in poverty, by people who, in some way, have needs different from our own. When I read ‘religious’ articles about these challenges, it seems that the response which is usually expected when faced with these uncomfortable, guilt inducing situations (but not the ‘appropriate’ response, I guess) is to turn away, not look the individual in the eyes, maybe thrust some money at the person while still not looking at them, to pretend not to see, etc. Or the other expected option is to stare – also, supposedly not the appropriate response. And then we are told that these responses represent our indifference.

I know I’ve had (and still have) each and every one of these responses. And, what I think can even be worse is that sometimes I look the person in the eyes, I greet that person, sometimes even shake that person’s hand or stump or whatever is offered – and then I move on. Maybe I move on to go eat in a restaurant, spending enough money on one meal, even if only a dollar or two, to have fed that person for a few days.

Sometimes, I even sit with the person and talk with them about their needs, listen to their struggles, witness their tears, hear and feel the pain and suffering in their voice. And then I turn away; I turn that person away. I don’t offer anything more than my ear for that brief moment, or that hour, we spent together.

And then maybe I go have a beer. And I spend enough on that beer – less than $1 – to have fed that person for a few days.

And then I justify it all – “oh, I need to keep my strength up,” or “I need to relax” – because “if I don’t keep up my mental and physical strength, I won’t be able to do what I’ve been sent here to do.” And the justification turns into condemnation and self-righteousness – “the beggars make more money than people who are going to work everyday,” “that person was begging even when I lived here 10 years ago,” “if I solve this problem then the organizations here to do this work will never need to do their jobs and will never be held accountable,” etc.

And then I wonder – which is the better response? And yet it seems cloudily clear – probably the correct response is to use that money spent on the meal, on the beer, to do what’s needed for that person at that moment. But then again, is that the correct response? In the legitimate situations of need, it will solve the symptom, but it won’t address the problem.

And then I worry about my indifference. How can I turn away that woman who says she can’t breast feed her child and needs help buying milk for her baby? How can I do that when she’s got tears in her eyes and pain in her voice? Do I really believe it’s the right thing to refer her back to the nutrition center because the doctor there told me about her and said that’s what needs to happen? Or, am I not wanting to take the time, to walk with her to the nutrition center and then to the counseling center to address the other issues the doctor told me about – that she never wanted the baby and her husband has abandoned her. I thought for a brief period that maybe I don’t want to face the deeper involvement, but realized that’s not it – I’m deeply involved and I’m facing it.

And then I think of Abbie and of my Aunt. I think of the woman needing blood. I think of the future for the little girl with cerebral palsy and mental retardation, who was abandoned by her mother. I think of the little boy who just died because he was taken to the clinic too late. I think of my responses in each situation, of my feelings. And what’s past is past. And how will I respond if faced with the same situations tomorrow?

I just don’t know – but I come home and write about it because how can I sleep?

6 Comments:

At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've come to know that our intention in what we do, is what matters. The work you are doing is remarkable.
Maya Angelou wrote,
-You may not think you can reach it. Climb anyway.
-You may not think you'll be heard. Speak anyway.
-You may not think you can change a thing. Try anyway.

 
At 3:47 AM, Blogger p-mami said...

but, the point is that you DO think about it! how many people don't even blink an eye. and you DO take the time to listen, and to do whatever it is you CAN do! we may slip now and then, but our hearts are there. in any given day it can be one of us in their situation. it IS important to speak to the person, and to look at them in the eyes, and speak from your heart.

i've shared your thoughts for very often, i often think i know there is MORE i can do.

and for anyone who took to time to read your entry, it can only help to make that person become more aware.

all the best.

p-mami

 
At 8:42 PM, Blogger m said...

It's so hard to respond to this blog. Your questions are so deep and searching, but then so are your own responses. You see both sides of the issue - for example, the idea that helping a beggar on the street might help that person for a while, but the whole systemic problem remains. It's like you are on a push-you, pull-you ride, except it's your life and it's intense.
All I can say is that I know you have helped many, many people in many ways. It's not your job to help everyone all the time. And I do believe it is your job to help yourself, to take care of yourself. Finding the balance is what we all struggle with. I think that balance can change in various times in your life, there is no one, final answer.

 
At 4:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The golden rule...is resolutely to refuse to have what the millions cannot. This ability to refuse will not descend upon us all of a sudden. The first thing is to cultivate the mental attitude that will not have possessions or facilities denied to millions, and the next immediate thing is to re-arrange our lives as fast as possible in accordance with that mentality.

Love and exclusive possession can never go together. Theoretically, where there is perfect love, there must be perfect non-possession. The body is our last possession. So, a man can only exercise perfect love and be completely dispossessed if he is prepared to embrace death and renounce his body for the sake of human service.

But that is true in theory only. In actual life we can hardly exercise perfect love, for the body as possession will always remain imperfect and it will always be his part to try to be perfect. So that perfection in love or non-possession will remain an unattainable ideal as long as we are alive, but towards which we must ceaselessly strive.

-Gandhi

 
At 2:30 AM, Blogger whoami123 said...

.
We work like a horse.
We eat like a pig.
We like to play chicken.
You can get someone's goat.
We can be as slippery as a snake.
We get dog tired.
We can be as quiet as a mouse.
We can be as quick as a cat.
Some of us are as strong as an ox.
People try to buffalo others.
Some are as ugly as a toad.
We can be as gentle as a lamb.
Sometimes we are as happy as a lark.
Some of us drink like a fish.
We can be as proud as a peacock.
A few of us are as hairy as a gorilla.
You can get a frog in your throat.
We can be a lone wolf.
But I'm having a whale of a time!

You have a riveting web log
and undoubtedly must have
atypical & quiescent potential
for your intended readership.
May I suggest that you do
everything in your power to
honor your encyclopedic/omniscient
Designer/Architect as well
as your revering audience.
As soon as we acknowledge
this Supreme Designer/Architect,
Who has erected the beauteous
fabric of the universe, our minds
must necessarily be ravished with
wonder at this infinate goodness,
wisdom and power.

Please remember to never
restrict anyone's opportunities
for ascertaining uninterrupted
existence for their quintessence.

There is a time for everything,
a season for every activity
under heaven. A time to be
born and a time to die. A
time to plant and a time to
harvest. A time to kill and
a time to heal. A time to
tear down and a time to
rebuild. A time to cry and
a time to laugh. A time to
grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones
and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a
time to turn away. A time to
search and a time to lose.
A time to keep and a time to
throw away. A time to tear
and a time to mend. A time
to be quiet and a time to
speak up. A time to love
and a time to hate. A time
for war and a time for peace.

Best wishes for continued ascendancy,
Dr. Whoami


P.S. One thing of which I am sure is
that the common culture of my youth
is gone for good. It was hollowed out
by the rise of ethnic "identity politics,"
then splintered beyond hope of repair
by the emergence of the web-based
technologies that so maximized and
facilitated cultural choice as to make
the broad-based offerings of the old
mass media look bland and unchallenging
by comparison."

 
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