Everybody’s hurting–economically, I mean. Or at least, they think they are. Rich people, poor people, and all the people in between. And cities and states are slashing their budgets drastically, as well. But let’s stop kidding ourselves: who is really taking the hit? It’s, as per usual, the most vulnerable in our society. The cuts come in education and in services to poor people. Health care for indigent families gets sliced, and college loans for young people who want to better themselves.
I read in the newspaper that in tight times, the call for cosmetic surgery is down. It appears that 25 percent fewer people since 2007 want to have their fat siphoned off with liposuction. Twenty-one percent fewer want their stomachs “tucked.” Breast augmentation is still, well, relatively big, with a loss of only 11 percent.
So one woman is complaining because she can’t really afford that blepharoplasty (that would be “eyelid surgery”) this year, while another woman is wondering how she’s going to feed her children that evening, if she pays the electric bill.
Imagine this: a group of people are on a luxury liner cruising the ocean, and they suddenly see a small craft, sinking in rough water, the family on board calling for help. Would the liner just cruise past, with the passengers complaining about the minor jostling of the rough sea–or would they do everything possible to save the family?
Or suppose a well-to-do family went on a picnic, and on their grassy path, they came upon children who had not eaten all that day and who were asking for food. Would not they open their bulging picnic basket and share their food with these children?
Sometimes I think those of us who have plenty simply suffer from lack of imagination. We somehow have the idea that we deserve what we have. Who deserves anything at all? We live through grace and the work of many others. Or another way of looking at it–who does not deserve? Who does not deserve food and shelter? Which human beings do not deserve this?
People say, “I work hard!” I say I know people who work twice as hard and don’t make enough to live on. People say, “Poor people are just lazy,” and I think of the young Hispanic man who is busing their table at the restaurant, or the maid from Puerto Rico who is cleaning their toilet in the hotel, and who will take the bus home late at night to a small rented house where eight others live.
Perhaps compassion comes down to nothing more than specifics. Numbers, statistics–how boring! So let us leave the abstract and be present with the real. Let us notice the hole in the shoe, the fly on the wound, the limp in the walk, the shout in the night. Let us notice, and care.