Wednesday, December 10, 2008

my neighbor

before he was here.

i know he had another life.  maybe not "another" life, but he had a different one.  i always try to catch his glance when i walk by, but he never pays much attention to anyone.  those tender eyes that rest on his weathered face are always so deep in thought, adrift in ruminations and places long past.  he seems to be suspended in those moments.  the moments that may have had a sweeter tempo, allowing him to at least kick up his heels once in a while when he walked.  the instances before he found himself sitting on the frozen curb watching his breath move in the cold air to pass his time.  at first glance, you would never think he made his residence on the hard sidewalks.  he keeps himself rather clean.  always bundled up in his big black coat, his round face sitting atop his assemblage of warmth.  some days he looks more tired than others.  on those days in particular, i really just want to stop and give him a hug, i want to tell him that i'm so sorry.  i'm sorry that he has to stuff his bedding away behind a dumpster in the morning and use a stick to get it out every night.  i'm sorry that he has to rummage through my trash to find boxes and paper to sleep on.  i'm sorry that his food is always cold.  i'm sorry that he has to sleep outside in 15 degree weather.  

i don't know what kind of life he had before this one.  my mind races through all the possible misfortunes and tragedies he may have endured whenever i tread past his presence.  i wish i knew.  whatever they may have been, whether "his fault" or the world's fault, no one should have to sleep outside in the cold.  some of my students come to my desk and talk to me between and after classes.  the other day, we were talking about how cold the weather was getting and one of my girls said, "in the winter time many homeless people die, and in the summer too."  when she said that my eyes teared up as my thoughts whirled around my neighbor.  

i suppose it's so easy to be a pessimist.  to think that nothing will ever get better; that the rich will continue to exploit the poor for their benefit.  to think that as technology continues to boom, the number of inward thinking, isolated people will also continue to grow as well.  although technology has done a great many things for some people, it has hurt more.  it has created a greater gap between global north and global south.  some may argue that the Internet is good because we now have the world at our finger tips, we can see suffering, become more educated and help more people.  but with one click, we can just as easily shield ourselves from it.  why stare at pictures of bloated babies and feel uncomfortable and guilty for being too lazy to give them your money when you can look at pictures of britney spears, laugh and not spend a cent.  way more thrilling right?  there are so many who don't have the option of clicking to another page because the pain and suffering of this world is their reality.  sure, technology has allowed us to become more aquatinted and informed about the social evils in this world, but what are we doing about it?  we see pictures, we read stories, we feel a little sad, but then we plug ourselves into our ipods and zone out on guitar rifts and electronic vibrations.  why is that?  because we have been raised in a country that has condoned us and conditioned us to tune others out.  with every text message, bbm, phone call, e-mail alert, sports update, gambling update, whatever else update ringing from our back pockets, it's become socially OK to be rude.  it's become ok to cut someone off when they're trying to tell you something important because our electronic life is screaming for our attention.  just as easily as we can cut someone off standing in front of us, it's even easier to cut off the hungry people who live in foreign lands.

although it is easy to be pessimistic, there is more that can be accomplished by being optimistic.  and there is even more that can be attained when we put that optimism into action.  we can sit around in our privileged lives and hope that the world gets better.  but nothing will change without action.  now is not a time to just read about what's going on and hope for a change, things must be done to accomplish change.  these things require us to stop thinking so much about ourselves and think more for others.  we many not have much as college students or recently graduated college students, but as citizens of the US, we, by default, have incredibly more than others.  sparing even one measly $1 is a huge contribution for the cause.  did you know that the republic of congo in central africa is the poorest country today with a GDP-per capita of $300 being followed by liberia with a GDP-per capita of $500.  yeah.  think about that.  we can't even imagine what it's like to live under those conditions, but think about what your dollar can do there.     

anyways, i guess the meat of my tangent for today has to do with my future aspirations.  the more i think about all these issues, the more i get excited about what i can do to change certain circumstances.  i can't wait to be a professor.

i leave you with this quote from bertrand russell, a british philosopher and nobel peace prize laureate for literature.  it really moved me.   

Three passions have governed my life: 
The longings for love, the search for knowledge, 
And unbearable pity for the suffering of [humankind].

Love brings ecstasy and relieves loneliness. 
In the union of love I have seen 
In a mystic miniature the prefiguring vision 
Of the heavens that saints and poets have imagined.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. 
I have wished to understand the hearts of [people]. 
I have wished to know why the stars shine.

Love and knowledge led upwards to the heavens, 
But always pity brought me back to earth; 
Cries of pain reverberated in my heart 
Of children in famine, of victims tortured 
And of old people left helpless. 
I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, 
And I too suffer.

This has been my life; I found it worth living.


The Phoenix Arisen said...

Thank you for this post. It totally put everything I wanted to write into perspective. And though you are many miles away, I am proud to have cross paths with you. Thank you once again for giving me guidance, insight, and a bit more clarity. You rock HJ!!

Aaron said...

Your riff on technology, while valid, is missing half the picture. It's the pitfall without the promise.

I don't have time to write more, but for one thing check this site out: (This is a hint of the promise, in it's infancy. Micro-lending to entrepreneurs in developing countries coordinated via the web. It's not charity, it's a loan that extends dignity, independence and sustainability. But don't take my word for it, read into it.)

I have more to say but it's laaaaaaaaate.