I was walking out of Wal-mart the other day, with my mom and my children flanking me. I saw, standing immediately out the exit doors, what looked to be teenagers with a helmet in their hand waiting for donations. Without thought, like I do every time I see someone standing outside of Wal-mart, I reached in my purse and handed my son a one dollar bill to give to those kids. I didn’t ask what charity they were collecting for, what school they went to, or even if it was appropriate that they were looking for handouts. I didn’t think, I simply sent a measly dollar their way.
My mother turned to me and asked, ‘how can you give your money away like that? How do you know they aren’t going to use it to buy electronics or something?” I was thankful my children were not around, as I look at this woman who had raised me in a combination of absolute horror and absolute confusion. Who was this woman that would worry about where a simple dollar was going? No, I didn’t know where it was going, but that hardly mattered. They were children, standing in public asking for money; dealing with the rejections, the cold shoulders and the derision. No, I didn’t care what it was for, I was more interested in the lesson my child was learning. It was a freaking dollar. Part of me understood instinctively that once again, that child like aura that I had placed around my mother when I was young was taking a hit. But it was a dollar.
We celebrate such heart breaking things in this world. We look for the nastiest, the grossest, the most horror filled tidbits of reality that we can find and we revere it. We put it in the spotlight, up on stage, we make money from it, and maybe worse of all – we justify it. It’s entertainment, it’s interesting, we are learning from it, it is funny. We lay down the carpet and admire it over and over again, even while we step all over it.
I was in Disney a couple of months ago, standing in line to get a soda. My children, and once again my mother, was sitting at a table already eating. As I was standing there I watched in horror as an older woman was scalded by the hot water she was trying to get for some tea. Immediately, I saw her eyes fill with tears and my heart broke. I literally tossed my tray down on the nearest table and went to see if I could help. I found, to my dismay, that she didn’t speak English, and I unfortunately only speak English. I couldn’t know what she was saying. But as she frantically pointed not to her leg, but to two small children sitting at a table watching in horror, I realized that she didn’t care about herself, but the two horrified children. In a combination of sign language and facial expressions we began to understand each other, and I got her the help she needed. I missed dinner.
I missed dinner not so that I could feel better about myself, not so my children would learn a lesson, not for a reward, or not honestly even to really help. I did it because in times of terror and trouble no one should be alone; and I had been alone. I have been alone in troubled times even when my parents, my husband, my doctors have stood right beside. I am incapable of not helping; and it is such a part of the molecules that make up my very self, that I cannot describe to you the mindlessness nor the compulsion. And that mindlessness doesn’t care about language, or even ability, it is simply the knowledge of being alone guiding me.
Before you judge me naive, let me reassure you I am not a bleeding heart. I will not put my children in danger to help someone, no matter how desperate they look with a cardboard sign on the side of the road. I will never sacrifice my child for my compulsion. But that doesn’t mean part of my soul doesn’t hurt to see it, or my thoughts and hopes aren’t turned even briefly towards that lost soul. I am not giving, I am not incapable of anger or frustration, but I will never allow myself to become so jaded that I can’t simply offer a smile, or a helping hand.
Allowing oneself choices is a difficult concept for most people. Oh, people will take responsibility for the food they eat, the house they keep, even the parties they choose to attend. But allowing oneself choices that aren’t always easy is a difficult concept.
For instance, many people don’t understand, or want to recognize, that Hitler choose his path. We love to blame art school, or his made-up hatred for the Jews, or other such nonsense like his unfeeling and harsh mother. But it is harder to acknowledge that this man, this human being, was smart, cunning and brilliant when it came to self promotion. He could charm the socks off the Angels themselves. He had the way with words that moved nations. And he choose to allow concentration camps and gas chambers. It was a conscious choose that he didn’t deny. While I don’t know of one picture showing him in a concentration camp, touring one or looking into the gas chambers from the dirt filled yard, what I do know without a doubt is he knew exactly what they were, where they were and who, in general terms, was there. He choose it.
But he also choose something else. Many people don’t know that Hitler had a nephew. On the other side of the mountains, Stalin had a son. It came to pass that Hitler captured Stalin’s son, and Stalin captured Hitler’s nephew. After much back and forth, and the propaganda that came along with it, Hitler suggested that they exchange the children. Stalin would give Hitler’s beloved nephew back to Germany, and Hitler would give Stalin his son. This is a side of Hitler that is never spoken of. Is it because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the picture? Is it because we are incapable of understanding that while Hitler could order masses of children to be killed, and in an absolute inhuman way, he could stoop to negotiating with his enemy for the return of his family? He showed love. He showed that there was a line he was incapable of crossing. (In case you don’t know Stalin refused. He didn’t care if his son lived or died, he wasn’t giving up his position of power for his flesh and blood. Again another choice.)
I wish I could say we are not all Hitlers. But the truth is that we make similar, if not equal, choices everyday. We choose not to help, or to hurt someone. We choose to create battle grounds in our homes so our children can watch. We choose to be frustrated at individuals who are doing their jobs, or because something is not fitting in the box we put it. We choose to be horrified over violence, especially when committed against our children, but we revere those who brought the images to life. We choose to pretend that killers have a disease, or don’t have the proper upbringing rather than simply admitting that someone choose to do something bad. And what is even worse, is we talked about the concept, we acknowledge that it is awful the violence that we perpetuate, and we condemn with our fiery rhetoric and our full heart that which we could easily choose. We choose that which we revere and there is simply no other way to say it; and then even if we acknowledge it, we as humans do nothing about it. Out of laziness? Out of fear? Out of sheer entertainment?
Think about two twins, born to the same home, in the same city, with the same parents. One chooses to kill, while another chooses to heal. Why? You can’t blame that on biology, they have practically the same brain; and you can’t blame nurture, as they were raised together. So what makes one a killer, and one a healer? Choice. It all comes down to choice. (And while you are at it, sometime, just once – don’t blame the victim. It is as ridiculous argument as saying that the woman who wore the really short skirt deserved to be raped. Get beyond it.)
The real question I would really like to know, is can we ever find compassion in this world for those who are different, those who are kind, or those who love? Can we ever look at each other and not first wonder how to get ahead, or what is in it for ourselves? Can we ever get passed the media to simply see children, standing on a sidewalk, asking for a simple dollar?
This world certainly isn’t all bad; there is too much poetry, laughter, wine among friends. There is too much healing, and believing, and honesty to make me think that this world is not trying, however it can, to be saved. I believe that this world is trying to be saved, although I have no advice on how that should be done. I don’t presume to understand, much less give unsolicited advice. What I do know, is that I walk only on the carpet I have laid, and hope at the end of the day that is enough for my soul to breathe.