A few years ago I wrote about how my craving for chocolate munchkins at Dunkin’ Donuts helped get through a very lonely period. Every time I went to the DD in our neighborhood and there were none of my tasty delights left on the shelf, I wondered if someone else also loved the taste of the cake and glaze, the perfect balance between sugar and sweet, as much as I did. That blog entry was playful but expressed profound issues. It is also one of the few pieces my husband – ever confessed as my faithful, non-reading fan-remembers and has actually read in entirety. I’ve borrowed it for all these reasons and also because something else happened in the neighborhood recently that may be a watershed event.
This month I’ve been confronted by another shared experience – this time much uglier than the crime of selfishly taking all of one type of doughnut at the store.
The ugly head of looking away is rearing everywhere so much so we are running out of excuses of why we don’t get involved. Whether on the international scale as the UN Security Council looks away at the slaughter of peaceful protestors in Bahrain or the pursuit of antigovernment people in Libya, or the personal of avoiding the truths that simmer only a few doors down from where we call home.
The international community may be caught showing impotent they are while distant parts of the world burn in fury at decades of abuse.
I sit in judgment of global leaders, whole countries, and then realize the lesson comes home to my door step – as various themes have been doing since the start of the Egyptian revolution.
Someone in my neighborhood needed help a few weeks ago and I was too busy coming and going, to work, to play, to church, to the store not to notice it. She was caught in the unfortunate circumstance that so many women find themselves: at the mercy of her employer who decided she couldn’t transfer her sponsorship to someone else and without explanation sent her home.
Turns out that many people around me knew this was happening and a few tried to do their part to persuade the employer to do the right thing. They wouldn’t budge and the end result was the same: the devastated young woman was sent away without regard for her family, her future, her livelihood.
Admittedly I don’t know all the sides of the story but the basic principle is the same: someone in the neighborhood needed help and I wasn’t there.
Idealistically you think you’ll be there for someone if they needed you. This is what good people do. We step forward when we’re called. But what if our day to day is so hectic, frenetic, and manic, that we can’t hear those pleas?
I confronted a friend whom this young woman had asked for help and who had been turned away.
“I didn’t have room to keep her stuff,” my friend told me.
This is the case, the summary, of what’s wrong. We don’t have room because our lives, our minds, our days are so cluttered with things of no consequence that things that truly matter to us can’t get access to our hearts.
“When someone asks us for help, we have to help them,” I said to my friend. She didn’t feel she could have risked herself for this person.
And I don’t know what I could have done. Maybe I would have been even more ineffectual than the people who did try to get them to see reason. Maybe not. Perhaps my getting involved would have made a tense situation irreparably awkward for future exchanges. Perhaps not. The truth is we’ll never know. Because while I smiled at this person, waved, and even stopped to ask how she was once or twice, I wasn’t there when she really needed someone.
The pontificating around Gaddafi, certifiably a corrupt, embezzling, bloodthirsty dictator, whose latest international broadcasts have proven his hold on reality is tenuous at best, seems to have moved towards action. The UK has agreed to freeze his assets. Germany and others-including the unlikely Peru-have called for Gaddafi to step down and the regime to stop killing its citizens.
But will it be too little too late? Are we in fact sliding towards civil war as the world keeps going to work, eating lunch, and putting our children to sleep, safe in their middle class beds, in the stable countries of the world?
The irony is that this is the democracy that the west could not have engineered. And now that is has happened organically, spontaneously, unpredictably, world leaders don’t know what to do with it.
The people have spoken, are speaking, will speak.
And I will try to do the same for those around me who need someone to be their advocate. In the hopes that when my time comes, someone in the neighborhood will be there to speak for me.