Out of Sight
I suppose as a child I wasn’t a “good eater” because I remember my mother insisting, time and again, that I finish everything on my plate. It became, in her mind, a moral imperative because “the children in Europe were starving.” These were the years immediately following World War II when hardship and deprivation stalked that ravaged region. I don’t remember whether invoking such distress overseas, presumably to make me feel guilty about leftover food actually worked but it did impress upon me, even then, that there were people elsewhere facing terrible conditions. Ever since, my eating patterns have been more or less normal. More significantly, I have often, over the years recalling my mother’s words, remained mindful of the suffering of others. However, uncomfortable such thoughts were I was, I believed, fulfilling an obligation to them as fellow human beings by acknowledging their misery and pain and the fundamental unfairness that threatens and degrades the lives of millions upon millions of people. As to the objects of such thoughts and concerns, consider the following:
• Refugee Camps, in which are gathered uprooted people, often forcibly displaced from their homes and villages. Will there be enough food and water to sustain them? Will new arrivals create terrible overcrowding and severely strain facilities? Is there much protection from the elements? Do the strong exploit the weak in the camp? What of the future?
• Living with an abusive husband – Will he come home angry? What will he blame me for today? His verbal abuse wears me down, especially when he does it in front of the children. Hitting is something else. My makeup can’t always hide the bruises. I’ve got to get out of the house. I hope he lets me join my friends tonight. I never know what his mood will be or what each day will bring.
• Solitary confinement – All sorts of strange shapes on the ceiling. The walls are closing in on me. Weird sounds and screams from outside. Talking to myself just to hear a human voice. So so boring. The toilet is not working. I’m going crazy, right? I want to kill myself. What a relief that would be.
• Escaping across the Mediterranean – The boat almost turned over in the surf. It’s very old. We are packed in. The waves look so close. The children are crying. It is raining and everyone is wet and cold. Are we moving or just drifting? Who knows how long it will take? Will we be discovered and turned back?
• ISIS Sex Slave – When ISIS entered our village all my brothers and my mother were killed. Men grabbed at me, groped me. Then I was brought to a house where this older man bought me. I was now his slave. I had to clean his house. He had me lick honey from his toes. He forced himself on me. He ordered me to close my eyes. He meant to hurt me and he did. Afterwards I tried to get away, but I was caught. Then many men raped me. I did finally escape. Thank God I found shelter with a kind family. I will not let them take me again.
• Working Three Jobs – I have no choice. Rent, food, gas, bills and more bills. Up early, got the school bus in my driveway and take off to pick up kids. In early afternoon there’s the return trip. Work the dinner shift at the diner until 8PM. Then it’s off to the local Walmart until midnight, stocking shelves. I’m hardly awake. Wouldn’t be without coffee. Total weekly take before taxes – $626. I have no idea how long I can keep this up. I’m exhausted all the time. I’ve got pains. A doctor? Forget it. I make too much for Medicaid.
• Homeless Shelter – My child and I, we’ve been evicted. Can’t stay on the street; no relations or friends. It’s got to be a shelter. Can’t take too much with me. There’s not enough room. Things can be stolen. You gotta keep alert. It’s hard dealing with folks there; lots of them are unstable. Sometimes there’s fighting. You have to get in and out of the shower fast. Figure on dirty sheets and bed bugs. Heat? Very little. Keep all your personal stuff safe, especially your papers. They feed you. You won’t starve. They make you leave each morning. It’s a long day.
• Tornado – Because of where we live I knew it could happen some day. And it did. Thank God no one was home. But the house just got blown away. You wouldn’t believe how little is left. Everything just scattered or disappeared. Here was our life, our possessions, our keepsakes, pictures, memories – all gone. I just sit there and cry. Neighbors come by with stuff they figure is probably mine, but everything else is gone, destroyed. Insurance will help some, but not that much. How do you start again?
• Inner City Despair – The block has been this way for a long time. Storefronts boarded up, dilapidated houses, cracked sidewalks, graffiti everywhere, cans overflowing, garbage all over the ground. Police come by every so often, then they disappear. On most corners there’s drugs. Men hanging around day after day. This is gang territory. The local grocery just shut – too many robberies. Buildings are in terrible shape, broken lights, shaky staircase, cracked walls, heating – barely. They moved the public school blocks away. Lucky you are to get by each day. Hope is not something people speak about much here.
• On Patrol in Afghanistan – Leave our base and there’s no way you can relax. IEDs can pop up anywhere – the roads, fields, doorways. Friend of mind had his leg blown away. Taliban fighting in the village up ahead. We enter cautiously, eyes darting in every direction. You never know where a sniper has taken cover. We can’t communicate directly with the village people; only through our interpreter. We trust him. I think the women are hidden away. The men are smiling, but they always do, friend and foe alike. They’ve not seen any Taliban. They hate them they tell us. Can we trust them? Have some of their relatives been taken hostage? Things are usually not what they seem to be. We leave and make sure to take the same route that we took coming in. Our patrol has been “successful” but what exactly did we accomplish?
• Somewhere in Syria – Assad’s butchers show no mercy, continue to kill us. The Resistance he attacks relentlessly but we civilians suffer terribly and without end. His planes bomb our homes. Explosions rip through our schools and our hospitals. We spend days removing the rubble, bringing out the bodies of our relatives and our friends. Food and water are very hard to find. There are people sick all around us. Each day is a living Hell. It goes on and on. Will the slaughter ever end?
In all of the above instances we read about places and situations none of us hope ever to experience. Yet, each day, millions do. Most of us prefer not thinking about this. And to a great extent we don’t. They are largely out of sight. But it’s depressing and painful. Recognize, therefore, how relatively “privileged” so many of us are. We may not be responsible, but we sense we ought to in some way be more responsive.