Friday, January 15, 2010

Feeling Helpless

Like many people, I've been stunned by the images of devastation and death coming from Haiti. Nature's cruelty has never been so apparent. In the best of times, many Haitians barely survive. Poverty, disease, violence and fear are Haiti's legacies from decades of dictatorship and a century of environmental pillage. Now to suffer this, on top of everything else--it is almost too much for me to grasp.

It is a gorgeous day here where I live, bright, sunny, breezy and pleasantly cool. I'm sitting in my comfortable apartment, typing on my laptop and enjoying a cold drink. In an hour or so I'm off to have dinner with visiting friends. Haiti seems like a bad dream--but like a nightmare, I find that it haunts me. Whenever I begin to relax, I remember the multitudes--wounded, homeless, robbed of their families and their livelihood--on the other side of globe. A cloud crosses the sun.

I live in Asia. I was here during the 2004 tsunami, and I remember feeling the same way. I recall that terrible New Years Eve when everyone wore black. I feel helpless. What, after all, can I do? I've made a donation to Doctors without Borders, but what is money in the face of such trouble, especially the meager amount I can afford? A part of me wants to hop a plane and fly to the Caribbean, to help with the rebuilding. To hold the hand of some woman who has lost a child. To cook and serve food to the many who must be hungry.

Practically speaking, I can't do this. But money seems like such a pale substitute for the personal gift of comfort--human to human.

I was thinking about this and came to a heartening conclusion. If I can't help a Haitian personally, I should reach out a hand to someone closer to home. I believe that we are all connected, that we share a spark that makes every person worthy of love and respect. And though I'm not traditionally religious, I remember Jesus' comments that to assist the least of his creatures was equivalent to serving him personally. (If I were religious, I could find the Scripture quote, but I hope you know what I'm talking about.) In some mysterious but I think real way, showing compassion in one part of the world will ultimately have positive effects somewhere else.

So today I resolve to give what I can of my time and my capabilities to my neighbors who might be less fortunate than I am. I'm not as helpless as I thought. Every kindness, every gesture of love or support, anywhere, adds to the sum of goodness circulating in our world. We're bound into a chain of love that transcends distance.

Maybe that sounds hokey or ridiculously innocent. But that's what I believe.

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