Published in the Ferndale Record, May 29, 2013
I don’t have to live in Moore, Oklahoma or be a factory worker in Bangladesh to access just a bit of what these people might have experienced. When I think about why I can do that, it’s simple—every one of us who live and breathe are connected.
Why would I want to think about it? Because it’s dangerous not to. I risk losing compassion, vision, and even worse, my humanity. I can’t remain focused on the tragedy of the world, but my heart knows about loss, terror and pain. If only a little, I can relate.
When my firstborn was a toddler I attended a class close to Western Washington University in a building at the literal top of a steep cliff. Childcare was provided so I took my little boy. When class was over I went to pick him up but he wasn’t with the group. I panicked and enlisted friends in the search.
He wasn’t found in the building and so I turned outside where I knew he could have fallen down the incline and been hurt or worse. Soon, someone found him in the building, in a closet behind some chairs, doing what little ones do, playing—unaware of the search in his behalf.
This story had a happy ending, but I can revisit those emotions and start to feel what it might be like for the mother whose daughter didn’t come home from school on that awful day, and hasn’t since.
If we’ve ever felt hungry, even a little, we can multiply that and begin to imagine how it is for people in third world countries—or certain people in our own country, every day of their lives.
I’ve always worried that standing too close to the fire would consume me, that being acutely aware of what it’s like to walk through a neighborhood razed by nature or war would paralyze me with inaction and grief. But I don’t think that anymore. Maybe it’s experience, age or a growing awareness of what feels most important, but I would act.
In January of 2010 when a catastrophic earthquake destroyed parts of Haiti, one of my friends went to help. He owned an airplane equipped to land and take off with large loads on short runways, and the call went out for those with such resources to help.
We reminded him of the dicey conditions: unknown territory and unscrupulous people taking advantage of others, not to mention flying bullets. He told us it was an opportunity to serve and he and his seasoned pilot spent several weeks shuttling supplies from a staging area in Florida to remote parts of Haiti.
We can’t demand caring from others or create it through legislation. It’s something we seem to have to learn on our own, sometimes the hard way—by being the ones in need. And we’ll all have a turn at that, one way or another.
No matter our stripe, creed, sexual orientation, hair color, language, background or culture, we are flesh and blood, and we are siblings on this planet, and if we really understand that, we’ll also get that we have more in common than we don’t, and our kindness and empathy will never leave us.
We are connected. We are one another. We are humanity.