My Poetry Muse appears to have taken a sabbatical. As a result, The Poem of the Week shall be replaced by the Musings of the Week, which will contain mostly prose and possibly poetry, depending on the fickle Muse. As the year draws to its end, I offer you the following piece from my Archives, that was originally published by me in 2011. However, it appears relevant to the thoughts I was having today, so I’m sharing it with all of you to see what kind of reaction you have to its message. You might also notice how little has changed in eleven years!.
It has been one of those days in Southern California that justifies our choice of living here despite the traffic congestion, high taxes and the other well publicized problems of the State – clear, sunny, without significant humidity, balmy temperatures in the high 70’s, and Mt. Baldy still covered with a cap of snow. After going for a morning walk to enjoy the benefits of the Santa Ana winds, smell some of the spring flowers along the way, I had a rare chance to relax, read the Sunday paper and reflect on the mixture of bad and good news to be found inside the pages. As usual, the bad news predominates, reflecting the journalist’s bias (and sad truth about human nature) that good news doesn’t sell papers. Given this selection criterion, it’s sometimes difficult to know if the world (and the people in it) is really as terrible a place as the media would have us believe.
One would have to be a complete Pollyanna to not realize the terrors that war, human cruelty and greed, not to mention the devastation Mother Nature brings to the human condition. No wonder that many choose simply to avoid reading newspapers or watching news programs, as we have all become overburdened and desensitized by the amount of carnage and horror delivered daily in front of our eyes. I hadn’t even had a chance to reflect on the earthquake damage in Haiti, Chile, and then New Zealand, especially as it might apply to our own geography, before the tsunami in Japan and the nuclear plant meltdown shifted my focus in a different direction. Now, with the tornado ravaged Southeast competing for news attention with the British royal wedding (a telling assessment of our values based on the time allocated to each,) I cannot recall any recent mention of what is happening in these other areas, though I intellectually know that the people there remain homeless, are still dealing with loss and daily deprivation. Sadly, just as the flotsam and jetsam of their lives have been washed out to sea, their problems are also lost in the relentless never ending news cycle of the media.
I was brought up by my parents to care about the suffering of others, to be grateful for the daily blessings of my life, to share with others surplus which is mine when their needs exceed my own. I still believe that this is the right way for me to live, but I admit, I feel completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems that are daily placed in front of me. I, along with millions of others, suffer from compassion fatigue. It’s daunting to realize that if I did nothing else but devote my entire life, energy and resources to the solution to but one of these myriad issues daily raised before my eyes, it could totally consume me, and still not do more than scratch the surface of the problem. I admire, and attempt to emulate those who have selected one or two worthwhile projects to which they lend their support, and who have remained steadfast in their focus. I continue to be impressed with the generosity of the American people in continuing to give to disaster after disaster relief, even knowing that their money is sometimes misspent or wasted.
I have been very fortunate in my life. All along the way, I have encountered angels in the form of people who have given me financial and moral support, who had literally taken me into their homes as though I were one of their own, who have opened doors for me that would have remained closed without their aid. There is always more that each of us can do for another, and it is a struggle for me, as I’m sure it is for many of you, to know where to draw the line between obligation of what I owe to myself and my family, and what I owe to someone who has been less fortunate than me. One way to deal with this dilemma, and one which I’m sure all of us have attempted to practice at one time or another, is to attempt to avoid seeing need so as not to feel guilty about not responding to it. Unless you live in almost complete isolation, this is almost impossible in our society. Another is to draw up a budget, setting aside a sum (be it money, time, or both) you feel you can devote to helping others. But what do you do when your budget has been spent, and an appeal reaches you that is difficult to ignore? How much right do we have to deprive someone close to us of our time or financial resource without their specific consent for what we feel is a greater need? And in the end, just how much impact does what we do have on the life of another? In my personal case, I can give you an easy answer – tremendous! I hope those of you who read these words will reflect on your own situations, continue to struggle with the balance between your good impulses, your selfish needs, and the legitimate needs of your families, and remain generous with the less fortunate.