This may be a little preachy, but so be it. I lived for years in creature comfort, surrounded by warmth and family and oblivious to much of the suffering in the world. Worse, I really didn’t understand all the forms it could take, how invidious it was, how it could erode people’s souls and how little was needed to help.
Every person reading this knows someone for whom a kind word or visit would help. In Judaism it is a principle mitzvah to visit the sick, but we usually take that to mean those with somatic illness. We allow those suffering from other diseases that leave no physical mark like poverty, loneliness and mental illness to go unmarked, or some of us do. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge these because taking note admits our own vulnerability.
The saying is “there but for the grace of God go I”, and yet the truth is that God has nothing to do with it at all. Being born of parents who valued education, born in a town with a good school system, choosing a good course of study when fortunate enough to go off to college, or deciding to follow a trade and have the intelligence to really make a mark. Those are the things that matter for financial success, God does not interfere.
In an era sadly marked by the rise of a candidate like Donald Trump, perhaps it is the ultimate indictment of the attitude that the rich are entirely deserving of their wealth and the poor always guilty of their poverty. Perhaps in a land where opportunities were actually equal.
If God interfered, she would look down on the starving billions with inadequate sanitation, who lack clean water, whose babies are dying of diarrhea at much higher rates than malaria, and she would perform a modern miracle. Even if that modern miracle was to make the often kleptocratic governments running those countries spend their foreign aid on their people.
If God interfered, she would reach down and bless those who walk the streets with broken minds and bodies tortured by addiction and clear the fog that keeps them blind and dooms them to self destruction.
I laughed when Jerry Falwell declared some hurricane was God’s punishment to the US for homosexuals. I always though God wouldn’t have had to resort to such a blunt instrument. Making big silver letters appear in the sky would have convinced me, but they probably would have said “Love one another, Jerry Falwell is a charlatan”. Although one could argue the second as obvious and a waste of good silver letters.
Unfortunately she does not interfere. Atheists say because there is no God, I tend to believe because that is not the kind of God we have. Yet perhaps we’ll just find out in the centuries to come that God was indeed wired into our consciousness, or that the universe is alive in some sense and that is truly God.
That leaves it to us to make the world a better place by brightening other people’s lives when we can. I reject the notion that this is done by self abnegation. This is done, in my opinion, by the hundreds of acts of kindness and connection we can perform every day. Smile and recognize other people regardless of their walk of life, acknowledge the poor and rich alike. Treat people with dignity. Touch people.
Perhaps most of all, do the things that are not convenient sometimes because they are right. Visit those who might not be fun to visit. Go see people three weeks after their surgery when everyone has forgotten they still need encouragement and help. Bring a shut in somewhere to brighten her day.
Show you accept and love those that many in our society would rather not see or acknowledge. Those no longer young. Those who don’t fit in the boxes. Those in distress. Those that offend our sense of propriety. You might find wisdom from the old. You might find understanding of those different from you. You might help the world become a marginally less difficult place for someone. You might even find an unexpected friend.