Friday, September 16, 2005

From another blog

Justine made the following statement in her disturbingly honest post titled "Terrible Apathy":
Cases like political oppression, economic oppression, and, most of all, the depravity of abortion are the ones that tie my soul into knots -- not a bunch of people who will, essentially, after a modicum of discomfort, be as before -- or maybe even, refined by hardship, better off than before.
This is what I commented:

Christian compassion requires us to bear one another's burdens. However, that is so hard to do when we cannot put ourselves in the place of our brothers and sisters. In American, so many of us have become so comfortable that we simply cannot imagine anything else. We are so used to the quick fix and the "happy ending" of TV programs, that we downplay human tragedy and suffering.

Thus, when we watch the TV news of the horrors that our brothers and sisters have faced on the Gulf Coast, we think, "Oh, it's not a big deal...soon their lives will go back to normal...the government will take care of them and maybe they will be better off than before!"

We can say that because we've never lost everything we own. We've never been separated from loved ones, with no idea of whether they are alive or dead. We've never had our six year old son and infant somehow, without us, manage to lead toddlers and tiny kids to safety. We've never seen the person we love most in the world swept away by flood waters, while we were helpless to save our best friend, our lover, the light of our life.

We've never spent days upon days risking our lives and health to rescue people trapped by floodwaters, while we had only a small boat and a board for an oar. We've never dodged the criminal element of our city while trying to save our neighbors.

We've never huddled all alone in the attic of our home, praying the flood waters would recede, praying we would not go into a diabetic coma.

We've never given birth in the Superdome and prayed that, although we had nothing to eat or drink, we would somehow be able to make milk for our newborn.

So it's easy to say, "Oh, these people only suffered a modicum of discomfort", while we sit in our warm, dry, comfortable homes with our nice computers, knowing full well where each member of our family is, knowing where we will spend the night, knowing we have a steady income, knowing we will be safe in our own beds and rise to be able to prepare breakfast in our own homes.

God save us from judgment. Some day we may be the ones who are dependent on the kindness of strangers. Will they save us from the floodwaters? Will they provide our next meal? Or will they be as apathetic and judgmental as we are now?

There is so much more I could have written, especially in response to something else she had written:

Maybe it was the fact that people continued to live in an area below sea level, where no private insurer would provide flood insurance. Maybe it was people who could wade through the muck to loot abandoned buildings but didn't proceed to wade their way out of the city. Maybe it was the immediate whining and finger-pointing, from local governments, advocacy groups and displaced citizens. Maybe it was knowing always in the back of my mind that the majority of these people were going to be just fine -- the government was going to step in a provide generously, no matter how much money private relief offered. Maybe knowing that either way my family was going to be paying for the multiple human follies that escalated this natural disaster to such an extreme level -- in taxes, higher fuel prices, raised insurance premiums -- that made me reluctant to step forward and answer the call to avail myself of the opportunity to serve my fellow man. It was probably a combination of all these things, but also this: there is only so much heartache and horror the human spirit can withstand before the soul callouses and terrible apathy comes to dwell in a tender heart.

It is easy to justify apathy. We even try to tell ourselves that it is a defense mechanism, that we are really so sensitive and so tender and so caring...

It is also easy to blame the victim. In every natural disaster that I can recall, those outside of the disaster area were quick to utter a response that has become so standard that my older brother and I referred to it as, "What sort of idiot would live in _____? Serves them right!"

Not to pick on Justine, but I couldn't help but note that she continues to live in the state of Washington, in the Pacific Northwest. Good grief, as every schoolchild knows, that is on the Ring of Fire! Who in their right minds would live in such an unsafe area? My family is going to have to be paying for the multiple human follies that will escalate the disaster that follows the next earthquake or volcano eruption. But, when that happens, I'll just tell myself that everyone up in Washington will be just fine; having your house leveled by an earthquake, losing your loved ones, etc., is just a "modicum of discomfort".

But, wait...I continue to live in California, also on the infamous Ring of Fire, so I can't point the finger at Justine for her poor choices in geography. All I can do is hope that those who name the name of Christ will be compassionate, rather than judgmental, after The Big One, and that they will allow the spirit of Christ in their hearts to move them to true tenderness and to action.

In the meantime, I'm doing little things that I hope will make a difference. I can't pick up and go to the Gulf Coast and be Jesus' arms and legs there, but I can raise some dollars here and there, I can pray, I can encourage others to be compassionate and merciful and gracious.

My grandfather used to often comment that suffering produces compassion. That always scared me as a child; I preferred to become compassionate without having to suffer, thank you very much. But for those who have never lost much --- whether it be our homes or our loved ones or our entire neighborhoods full of friends we've known all our lives --- it is all too easy to be callous. "Oh, they will be just fine. This is just a modicum of discomfort."

Perhaps this is so personal to me because I've walked some of those streets that are still flooded. There are faces that I remember. I will probably never know, this side of Heaven, how a number of those people survived...or if they did. What horrors did they endure?

On one of our trips, there were six of us crammed into one somewhat crummy hotel room. On our last morning, all the power went out in our room except for one outlet near the door. I had to cobble together an assortment of lamps, using them as extension cords, in order to get a light into the bathroom. The morning had numerous other frustrations as well, and I ended up not having time to put the room back in order (furniture had been moved to accommodate my five children) before we left. As we were leaving, the maid arrived to clean the room. She was such a sweet woman, with a careworn face that told of suffering only partially overcome. I apologized profusely for the state of our room and gave her a large tip, the largest I could afford. By her response, I knew that it was God who had moved me to tip so generously. Is she alive today? What about her family? Where are they? Did they, like so many others, lose everything?

There is the elegant, almost regal young woman who works at a restaurant I've visited several times. She has been in my thoughts and prayers, even though I don't know her name.

And there are so, so many others who have touched my lives, even in tiny ways.

Hack Bartholomew. Finally a name to put with a face! He ministered to me powerfully, not only on the day I met him at Cafe Du Monde, but in the months that followed my brother's death, when I played his CD's over and over and over...

I have no idea if he's in Heaven now, or scattered to the four winds, so to speak, somewhere in some shelter, far from his home.

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