A Quiet Disaster, With Deaths Unremarked

Bismillahi Rahmani Rahim

Salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah

The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan reminds us once again that our lives can change or end in an instant.  This is a harsh reminder hard on the heels of disasters in New Zealand, Chile, and Haiti.  Just in case you weren’t listening the last few times, I suppose.  In one way the Japan earthquake is different; there’s a lot more film of the actual disaster, especially the tsunami that killed so many as it swept ashore with horrible efficiency.  Seeing boats and buildings tossed about like toys and entire towns wiped out should make us pause and reflect, should break through the layer of inured apathy that affects so many of us.  But does it?  Does seeing all the death and destruction really make us stop and remake our own lives?  I’m pretty skeptical of that.  Unless you’re over there, the disaster is, well, over there.  Once we turn off the TV and turn back to our daily lives, we, with our infinite capacity to forget, put aside the harrowing images and start to wonder what we’re going to have for dinner.  It’s human nature.
While we calculate the deaths in Japan, I would like to call your attention to this quote I found at the globalissues.org website:

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

Now, it’s probably safe to say that the vast majority of us have not given a thought to these 22,000 dead children unless CNN or another network happened to be airing a special on poverty in Africa or elsewhere in the world.  But these children don’t stop dying simply due to our inattention.   They die, a mass casualty event that happens one child at a time, one or a few or several in a refugee camp or in a small village or out in the jungle or in the high desert.  If they all just happened to be gathered in one place and died in one event, no doubt the world would gasp and send news crews racing to the scene.  Instead, the deaths are unheralded except by the close family members, the dying moments caught not by a video camera, but by the tear-filled eyes of a desperate mother.  Another few have died in the time it took you to read this paragraph.
So, what do you do?  What do I do, here in my large disordered suburban split-level home with heat, air, running water, and indoor plumbing?  What can I do to help, to shed my protective layer of distance, physical and emotional, from these disasters?  Well, as an overstressed sleep-deprived time-disadvantaged mother of five, hopping on a plane to Africa or Asia is not in my plans for a couple of decades.  I live here in America, so it is here in America that I can try to help (though we do also send money home to my husband’s family in Egypt).  It’s that old “think globally, act locally” thing.
In my personal life, I have chosen a charity that we regularly donate to.  It is in my region so I can feel a sense of local closeness and emotional closeness to the cause.  InshaAllah if I am able to get some help with the kids this summer (please make du’a for us for this to happen), I intend to volunteer either a food bank, soup kitchen, or women’s shelter.  I want to be face to face with the people I help, not because I want to see their gratitude, for truly I don’t want or expect any reward from anyone, but I want to do this because only by being in the thick of it can someone experience some of what that other person is going through, and it is this real connection that breaks down our reserve and opens us up to the possibility of real change in our lives.
Look at Sean Penn.  This actor has resources you and I cannot imagine.  It would be very easy for him to sit in a mansion in Los Angeles, get on the phone, call a few hundred of his closest friends, or what passes for a friend in Hollywood, and raise money for relief efforts in Haiti.  But this man who has no need to leave his highbrow world has been spending half the year in the fetid slums and camps of Haiti, in the muck, on the ground, living with the people and watching them heal or die.  He is connected through his heart and his work; his involvement is much more than a six-figure check written out for the Red Cross.
So, what can you do?  You can do a lot.  If you are a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t get out much, maybe you can mentor a child and stay in touch via e-mail.  You can send money overseas to family.  You can sponsor an orphan.  Think about ways to get free time to go out.  Swap child care with other moms in your area so you can have some free time to volunteer.  Yes, you also need free time to decompress, take yourself out to lunch, and relax, but even if only once a month you can get out to do some work at a shelter or community center, you will make a real and up-close difference in someone’s life.  You’ll learn a lot and serve as a great role model for others in your family.   You may not be able to pull an elderly lady from the muck and mud of her ruined town in Sendai, but you can save a life closer to home.  And you know what the Qur’an says:

Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. And indeed, there came to them Our Messengers with clear proofs, evidences, and signs, even then after that many of them continued to exceed the limits (e.g. by doing oppression unjustly and exceeding beyond the limits set by Allah by committing the major sins) in the land!. (5:32)

So, are you ready to save the world?


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