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On Suffering and Charity

I started this blog in the wake of Katrina. I thought about saying something about it at the time, but decided against. Many had already said much about the tragedy, and I felt that I would be commenting only to stand among the masses to affirm that I, too, was horrified, moved to compassion and action, outraged, and any other feeling that was appropriate to the situation. Me too! Me too! It is a motivation that I generally don’t care for, though all those feelings and more did affect me. But something else has bothered me for much longer.

The only difference between events like Katrina and other suffering of the world is concentration of the devastation. I found it a little difficult to become overly moved by the hurricane because in the whole of human suffering, it was but a small instance. Every day, lives are being destroyed by disasters that are not nearly so obvious and news worthy, but as much and sometimes more ravaging than the hurricane.

Every day, someone loses a job.
Every day, someone loses a loved one.
Every day, someone’s house burns down, with all their material possessions.
Every day, a mother weeps over the easily preventable illness of their child.
Every day, another mother or perhaps that same one is overwhelmed by the inability to feed her child.
Every day, a woman is raped, and has no lawful recourse. In fact, it could be grounds for her abandonment by her family.
Every day, a husband beats his wife. His son watches, and grows up to beat his wife.
Every day, a mother abuses her child.
Every day, a person lives with the constant scorn of their spouse.

Add to the pool of destruction. Mix it up. Multiply it by billions.

It is so great, so chronic, so overwhelming, that we do very little. Only when some severe acute event occurs do we move to suddenly say “This suffering is unacceptable!” Then, when the wounds have been dressed (though far from being healed), and the news vans have moved on, we settle back down into our complacent lives, satisfied we donated a little money to help the victims.

Much suffering is unavoidable. But so much is easy to prevent. Why don’t we do more? Why is what we do so deeply ineffective?

Why have I been graced to live in luxury unimagined by kings of old; with a loving husband and beautiful, healthy, intelligent children?

I got a call a while ago from someone representing some firefighters with a charity for burned children. I hate those kinds of calls, for several reasons. I have a limited budget for charity, and I have already chosen where I will donate it too. Also, this particular organization outsources their calling, so that even if I did give them money, very little of it would actually get to the kids who need it. But I still feel bad for turning them down.

I’ve been part of a group that set itself up mostly to do charity work. I was a founding member of it. I told the lady trying to set up this organization, a fan club actually, that I wouldn’t be a part of it unless it was actually philanthropic. I worked very hard on an event, and donated my time and money to it. But I was somewhat disillusioned. I found that “All proceeds go to charity” means that a good portion of it will go to the organization to pay for administration. I ended up leaving the group for other temporary reasons, but felt no desire to return when the situation resolved.

I’ve been up to my neck in the PTA, even though I never joined. I suppose they saw my name on the school volunteer roster. I am in charge of red ribbon week, and have come to the conclusion that it is mostly wasted money funneled into the pockets of drug prevention supply stores. I do not believe that this week of cutesy fun with a red bracelet will actually help kids not choose drugs, and studies with other more structured drug prevention programs back me up. And yet, if I don’t answer the call of duty, I will be seen as “not helping the cause”. As I have stated before, I am ashamed at this motivation and my cowardice. Admittedly, many women work very hard in various activities the PTA sponsors, but I am still of the opinion that it is a mostly fluff organization, good intentions not withstanding. The real nit and grit of the volunteerism and donation in our suburban school happens through parents directly helping the teachers.

So much time, effort, and money spent that doesn’t even begin to help. So much apathy engendered by the futility of such effort.

I feel guilty that I have done so little; that I spend so much time centered on my family and the relative paradise they reside in. And yet I would not abandon them, and balk at the concept of lowering their quality of life, even to raise the quality of life for another child. For they are my children whom I am given to protect, and as their mother I must make sure that they do not suffer the preventable tragedies of life. I can at least do that.

The mother in Africa can’t.

Mother Teresa spent her whole life, eschewing even the blessings of family, tending to the sick and poor. It hardly made a dent.

What can I possibly do?

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