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Shame on me

Associated Press photo
Ukrainian coal miners search the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane.

It took the shooting down of a civilian airliner and the deaths of 300 people for me to take an active interest in the insurgency in Ukraine.

It took hundreds of deaths at once for me to shake my head in sorrow about the horrors of this war. It took a shot-down airliner, all of those deaths at once, to remind me that deaths in war occur one or two or three at a time, sometimes each hour but always each day; that civilians lose their homes and their lives as individuals, not as a large number. To paraphrase a quotation often attributed to Joseph Stalin, "A million deaths is a statistic. One death is a tragedy."

It's easy, but not forgivable, to overlook wars across the globe. I have my own little world to live in. Each day has its own challenges and sometimes its own rewards. It's easy for me to turn my gaze inward. It's easy for me to open up the New York Times and read about so many topics that are of personal interest that I can ignore the Four Horsemen, keep them from getting close enough to me to grab me by the shoulder, shake me and scream, "Wake up!"

A poem by Peter Davison comes to mind. It's called "A Word in Your Ear on Behalf of Indifference":

History is sometimes salvaged by it, a civil servant
Who bows and smiles at weakness, at right and wrong;
At progress, poverty, peace and war; at victims,
Torture, and torturers. A skilled masseur,
Indifference smooths our faces into features
And lets our muscles work without rending each other.

Indifference in-the-home lets tiring lovers
Share a warm bed between the defloration and
The signal for the soon-to-be-contested
Divorce to plunge both parties
In ice-water up to their arse.

Though we yell back and forth, “Let us erase our existence!”
“Let us scurry before the flailing winds of our senses!”
“Let us surrender into the hands of the forces!”
Indifference chimes in to discourage us from jumping.

My client gives us the power this side of death
To shackle ourselves, to live within our dimensions,
To ignore for hours at a time
The outrage and the dread
Of being no more than we are.

It took these days of disbelief for me to realize that at the very least I should be aware of all wars, who's fighting them and why, and, most important, who the casualties are, if not personally, then as a community or as a people. I don't know what I can do as a result of new awareness—checks to relief organizations? Letters to politicians?—but I won't know the answer to that question until I stop turning my head.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 19th, 2014 10:33 pm (UTC)
I don't know, pjv - there's only so much capacity for sorrow and outrage within each of us, and some days, we needn't look very far to find our fill.
Jul. 19th, 2014 10:49 pm (UTC)
On a much smaller scale, the same problem arises with the solicitations for charitable donations that arrive in the mail almost every day. We support two of them regularly: the Alzheimer's Association and the National Diabetes Association, for obvious reasons. But who else should we support? Who else can we afford to support? I think we do the best we can, but there's always more to be done ...
Jul. 19th, 2014 11:06 pm (UTC)
Agreed. I used to give something to practically everyone who asked, but ultimately decided it would be more effective to give more $$ to specific causes we believe in and stop spreading our limited funds thinly among so many. Obviously, the Mental Health Association is one of our chosen recipients, but there are others. You're right, though...there's always more to be done.

When I read an article in the Buffalo News the other day about the annual salaries of the top two execs at National Fuel, (over $12 million combined, for one freakin' year) I thought, holy crap, how does a utility company make enough in pure profit to afford that, and holy crap, just one of those annual millions would have a profound effect on the MHA's ability to serve a much greater percentage of the population in need.
Jul. 19th, 2014 11:21 pm (UTC)
$12 million a year? Pure Babylon, say I.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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