Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Community: When We Touch

Everyone is familiar with the human interest stories that appear in newspapers. They are offered as a counter-balance to the crime and despair that pollute the pages. These stories connect us, tweak us, uplift us, and help us to feel a part of the human community. They are meant to remind us that we are all of one people, one family, inexorably linked to each other in this vast, grey world. Hope lives, if we can only come together for each others like the people who inhabit these stories.

On Sunday, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed a story about a mother of ten who had moved from New York to Philadelphia in an effort to escape an increasingly dangerous neighborhood. Her husband had died two year prior, and she struggled to keep her family above water. The story focused on how the family was struggling in the first heat wave of the season. Living in a brick row house with no air-conditioning, the family had first spent the day spraying each other with water, and then endured the still sweltering evening with imprudently open doors and windows. The vain attempts to find a cool breeze were exhausting, and in vain.

The mother was optimist. Both she and her eldest daughter were seeking employment, and seemed confident that they would find it. Local churches provided assistance to help bridge the gap between survival and collapse. And, the only thing the mother wished for in the article was a hose with which to spray her children to relieve the heat.

On blogs, we commented on the state of society, and the cause of such struggles, in general. We dissected the life of this mother, looking for the root of the problem or a target to blame. Ten children? A single mother? Obesity? The failure of community? The failure of the family? What was the root cause such a sad circumstance?

Meanwhile …

Others read the story in the Sunday paper, and thought not why, but what. The next day, a man heeded the mother’s one wish, and left a hose on the front stoop. Someone else came by, and left an air-conditioner. Another left an air-conditioner at one of the churches mentioned in the article. The landlord then came by with two new air-conditioners, and a portable pool. Because of the article, the church was inundated with gifts, and queries on how best to help the family. Because of that article, the churches have received so much bounty that they can help others in the neighborhood.

The mother (who calls herself peaceful now, based solely on the contentment of her children) is bowled over by the City of Brotherly love, as am I. For every act of disdain and violence we read of, there is at least one person who, touched by a newspaper article, reaches out to help a stranger. For everyone, like me, who pursues the intellectual cause of suffering, there is someone else who buys a hose to relieve it. For every one who insists on the big solutions, there are five who know that we cannot get to the dream of tomorrow until we make it through the practicality of today.

I am duly and gratefully ashamed.


Lori Skoog said...

Fe...glad you got such a charge from the fly masks. The horses really like having them on. It's like us looking through a screen.
Once again, great writing.

Lori Skoog said...

The black and white dog is Ice. He belongs to my daughter and spent the day here with our dogs. He loves to come to the farm. Like Phoebe, he comes from a shelter in Kentucky. When he was a few weeks old some idiots locked him in a refrigerator that was out on a porch... someone heard him crying and saved him. When my son-in-law heard about it, he sent for him. The story of Phoebe is amongst the Picasa Web Albums. Did you ever check that link?