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Sunday, January 6, 2013
A Squirrel, Two Movies,and the Poor
It is January 6, Epiphamy Sunday, the day the three wise men came to visit Baby Jesus and bring him the gifts that signaled his humanity and his mortality. It is also the day that we traditionally take down Christmas. We did that yesterday, putting the season away for another year. Jumpy the Squirrel was not happy with me when I got the plastic storage tubs out of the shed -- he had built himself a cozy little nest inside the shed for the winter and I disrupted his temporary home. He ran off in a frenzied huff and up a neighboring tree. I don't want him in the shed to begin with, bringing in small branches from the trees and shredding whatever cardboard or paper he can find. Come spring we will find a way to transient proof the building. Not that Jumpy is a transient. He has a home, several in fact. He is not poor or unemployed. He is industrious, clever, and entertaining, all good qualities in a human being, let alone a rodent.
This blog is not about rodents or discarded Christmas trees, although the images apply. It is about two movies.
When we were done putting away the Christmas decoratiuons last evening, we sat down to watch a 2005 film we had not seen for quite a while: "The Girl in the Cafe." It is a bittersweet romance set against a G-8 summit. By chance, a young woman gets the opportunity to bend the ears of crucial policy makers from the top eight countries in the world. They want to argue and compromise and equivocate. For her, the issue is simple and direct. Every three seconds -- one one thousamd, two one thousand, three one thousand -- a child dies as a direct result of poverty. As Bill Nighy's character points out, the tsunami that killed 250,000 people in a matter of minutes was a major and horrible tragedy, but just an ordinary day for the poor. Another way of looking at it is the Holocaust claimed eleven million lives, six million of them Jews, by planned mass extermination over the course of a decade. That many poor people die today IN A MONTH.
The second film is one we rented a few days ago: "Beasts of the Southern Wild." It is a remarkable film about community and love, but its backdrop is abject poverty shown in unblkinking, unsentimental realism. It is not a comfortable film to watch, for many reasons, but the main reason is its wallowing in reallife conditions that most of us never see, nor want to really conceptualize. As our economy struggles to regain its footing, and as millionaires in Congress argue and debate about fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings, our memories are growing short. There is poverty in America. There is widespread poverty throughout the world, and people are dying simply because they were born. We can accept poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. It is far away, does not impact us directly, and most of the victims are people we do not care about at least in part because of the color of their skin. But here? In the United States? We do not recognize poverty even when we're the ones suffering from it.
All this is hard for me. It plagues my mind on a daily basis, and yet there appears to be nothing I can do about it. I cannot make the members of Congress realign their priorities. I cannot even propose suitable ideas for the kinds of reform, spending reallocation, and heightened national awareness to those Congressmen. I certainly cannot make the decision makers around the world more responsible to the plights of the billions when the billions they think about are not people, but dollars. I can only scream. I am preaching to the choir here, I know that, but I have no power to evoke change.
I therefore withdraw my name from nomination for the Presidency of the United States in all future elections. I realize that I could never make any decison that would sanction, encourage, or even allow the murder of one single innocent life, either as a biproduct of war or the result of choice. Both political and military leaders make decisions daily which result in the deaths of inocent people, including the choice not to act.
In "The Girl in the Cafe," Bill Nighy's character has a dream that he interprets as telling him that he is not the man he imagined he would become when he was a younger man. This is true for most of us. The pain we feel is what we call regret. "I could have been . . . I could have done . . ." I feel that regret deeply when ever I think about my work and what I have not finished. But I feel no regret that I am not a major player in the political world. It would be just too frustrating to have to compromise and compromise knowing that every decision I do not make, or ammend into oblivion, costs even one life. We put away the manger and the creche, but the image of the baby remains, and when I hear him crying I only hope to God that it is not from a hunger that cannot be sated.
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..