Wednesday, November 18th, 2015: REGS only pick-up
I am part of a book club with some lady friends in Mt. Horeb. This month’s read is called “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo. It is a sobering story of profoundly poor families living in a Mumbai slum near the international airport.
At times, I’ve struggled to read it. The abject poverty of the characters depicted in the story is simply horrible. No one should have to live so poor, so abused by those more powerful, and so trapped. To be honest, I’m not even sure the point of reading this book, as it is so very depressing! The problems are so complex and immense. The problems are so far away. What can I possibly do?
I was ruminating on these feelings of powerlessness, almost wanting to stop reading the book. Then I went to church (the First Unitarian Society) and they were announcing a holiday family to family Christmas program. The idea is that one family at church acts as Santa to a family in need in the Madison area. The whole project was super organized; each family in need was represented on a single sheet of paper. Family members’ names and ages were listed, along with a wish list. The lists were both things needed and wanted.
I started to peruse the sheets. The third sheet I look at listed a 13 year old girl and a 58 year old grandmother. The girl listed winter boots and sanitary pads as her needs. The grandmother listed a cooking pot and a gift card to Woodmans to buy food. I was struck by the raw need reflected in these requests. Can you imagine being a teenager and having to ask for tampons for Christmas? I scooped up this family’s holiday wish list and look forward to being their Santa.
And then I had one of those clicks in my brain, where suddenly something I was grappling with seemed so clear. Why read the book about Mumbai? To remind me that everywhere there are people in need, and that there is always something I can do to help someone else in need, however small my effort may be.
Can I stop the insane corruption in India? Can I build a roof for the scrap boy living in the slum? No. But I can buy a cooking pot for a grandmother raising her teenage granddaughter. I can buy this girl some necessities and a gift card to Noodles so she can enjoy the social experience of eating at a restaurant with some friends. This I can do.
It’s a small gesture, I know, toward the grand scale of suffering in the world, but it’s something.
So this Thanksgiving, I hope not only will you feel thankful for what you have, but that you’ll also honor and practice what you can contribute to the world around you – however small!
I want to leave you with my favorite excerpt of all time, one I need to be reminded of constantly. It’s by Alice Walker in her wonderful book: Anything We Love Can Be Saved:
“It has become a common feeling, I believe… that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of our world. For we can nothing substantial toward changing our course on the planet, a destructive one, without rousing ourselves, individual by individual, and bringing our small, imperfect stones to the pile.”