Dear Generous Readers,
Sometimes the Savvy Sister encounters people in everyday life who need her advice but don’t have five minutes to send her an email. If they would just quick checking Facebook ever so briefly they could write down a single sentence and zip it off to me, but whatever. Those freaky cat videos aren’t going to watch themselves.
So. The other day I was at Starbucks enjoying a Tall Decaf Nonfat 1-Raw-Sugar Cappuccino while the Tyrant inhaled cookies and shimmied up the umbrella pole, and I received a phone call from my sister-in-law Karen who lives in California. She and her husband, who is Hot Firefighter Husband’s brother, were once the golden couple. She’s beautiful, he’s hunky, they’re both adventurous and talented and generous. But then they had three kids in five years, they both work fulltime, and recently it rained every day of their long-planned Hawaiian vacation. So now they’re just normal. Sometimes she doesn’t wash her hair.
Anyway, Karen called me, which was a little unusual because she has NO TIME to herself now that her youngest is a year old. Before that she could at least have some peace while pumping breast milk at work. Now the kid has teeth, which was a deal-breaker.
Karen formerly worked in the news business, but now works in the corporate world. One recent night, she explained, she had been flipping through channels trying to find The Voice when she stumbled onto a CNN video clip about the civil war in Syria. She told me she had not been following the Syrian situation very closely, and the video shocked her. It showed, quite graphically, an entire family, including young children, who had been executed in their home, apparently by government forces intent on quashing rebels. As the rescuers search the house, they hear faint cries, and a young boy comes flying out of a closet. He must have been hiding there for days, a single breath of life in a ghastly tomb.
Karen felt blindsided by the video, and paralyzed by the fact that as she stumbles through her busy suburban life, changing diapers and downing protein bars and complaining about traffic, children are being purposefully shot to death, almost in real time. She cried as she spoke.
For those readers also living in blissful ignorance of the civil war in Syria, here’s a short synopsis: the Syrian people would like to overthrow their government, led by
Dictator President Bashar Al-Assad. Al-Assad has responded by sending army forces to eliminate dissenters. Thousands of people have been killed, with the violence escalating daily. The uprising has generally been associated with the Arab Spring, a series of efforts by civilians in Arab nations to bring democratic reforms to their countries.
“What can I do?” she asked me. “I mean, how can I help? I just can’t stop thinking about this. I want to do something, and I feel helpless.”
“Are you pregnant?” I asked. “You should take a pregnancy test.”
“NO! I mean, no. Believe me. I just….I don’t know.” Her voice trailed off.
But I knew. “You’re feeling bad because you’re going about your life complaining about how busy you are or how you don’t have any money or that your 2-year-old acts like a delinquent, and suddenly you realize that life really sucks for a lot of people.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to get our heads around the problems of the world. While I’m worried about whether I’m up for cooking dinner, some mother living in the trash slums of Mumbai is excited to have found a chicken leg in a garbage can and she uses it to make some soup. This afternoon I’ll whine because I’m so sick of driving a Motorized Landfill that smells like a goat, and across the globe in Africa a baby will perish from diarrhea because there’s no transportation to the nearest hospital.
I had a similar cathartic moment two years ago after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. I watched coverage of it constantly, and cried daily about the plight of the children. I told Hot Firefighter Husband we would be adopting another child if a program materialized to bring Haitian orphans to the States. I donated money. I made my oldest child watch footage of the disaster. Eventually, though, Haiti’s plight was pushed off the front page of the paper, and occasionally omitted from the evening news. Spring arrived, then morphed into summer, and my promise to always appreciate having food and shelter and safety became overshadowed by screaming children, sunburns, and driving vacations.
I still follow the news in Haiti. My sister recently visited a University of Notre Dame clean water project there, and she reports little progress regarding earthquake recovery. Hundreds of thousands of people still live in tents. There’s a cholera epidemic. Streets are paved with garbage dumped on top of garbage.
What can we do? How can we help?
Well, for starters, you can do exactly what Karen did, which is establish a baseline of knowledge regarding what’s happening in the world. In addition to what’s happening in Syria and Haiti, a drought in Somalia has caused a famine affecting 13 million people. There is evidence of rape and genocide in the Congo. Murderous drug cartels are kidnapping civilians in Mexico without fear of reprisal. Famine continues to plague North Korea because its leader is completely whack.
Of course, there are other options. We can donate money to various causes. We can join volunteer organizations. We could uproot our families, move to Africa and help Doctors Without Borders vaccinate babies.
But right here, right now, awareness might be the best you – or I – can manage, and it might be the key to change. When you’re aware that your congressional representative has opposed measures sending money to Africa, maybe you’ll vote differently. Perhaps you’ll stop buying certain types of diamonds when you learn they were mined by children forced into labor in Sierra Leone.
And maybe when your neighbor spews some venom about the horrors of immigration, you’ll speak up about the terrible atrocities suffered by many of the people struggling to get here.
Now. Tell me again about how stressed you feel because you’re behind on laundry.
That’s not to say you’re never allowed to complain. Holy Zappers, if I find one more broken electrical outlet in my house I’m going to install solar panels, which actually I’d really like to do but the plucking HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATION, bless its tiny little gated heart, probably wouldn’t approve it. See? I can complain.
But keep your life in perspective, and know that not everybody sleeps in a bed and eats cereal for breakfast. And if you’re really motivated and at least mildly photogenic, make a video like this one that Karen made. Let people know that you care.
Peace out, peeps.
~the Savvy Sister