How does our materialism impact “the least of these” in forgotten places?
You and three friends are navigating a monolithic canyon of electric luminescence.
“Better than Las Vegas,” says Chuck.
“There must be a billion lights,” says Rodney.
“Those video walls are wicked,” says Betsy.
You are literally speechless, gaping at an enormous dancing green-skinned chocolate that melts in your mouth but not in your hands.
“That screen must be 10 stories high,” says Betsy.
“Twenty at least,” says Rodney.
“I heard someone say it would take four power plants to keep the lights on here,” says Betsy.
Scanning Times Square, you see all the burgers and brands and electronic gadgets that made America great. Your eyes latch onto a display of dancing hipster teens that would dwarf King Kong.
“It takes my breath away,” says Chuck. “What do you think?” he asks, turning in your direction.
As the video wall zooms in on one face, the image starts to blur. The perky bright eyes and paste-whitened teeth are replaced by a heart-rending expression of innocence and despair. In a flash, you are face to face with the hotel-sized figure of a cloaked teen, loosely veiled with a white scarf. Broadway’s lights continue playing in your peripheral, as the whoosh of desert wind erases all other sounds.
It’s you and a Yemeni girl, face-to-face on Broadway.
Her rich brown eyes, glassy with moisture, leave you feeling hopeless.
Why are you here? you ask in your thoughts. What do you want?
Her expression is haunting. She says not a word.
“Pack up!” shouts a turbaned man.
The girl cringes as he threatens to whip her with a switch. Behind her, you see a terraced hillside with brown weeds and dry irrigation ditches.
“Three thousand years we farmed these hills,” says a bent woman, setting cooking pots into a hand cart. “Why leave now?”
“The times are changing,” says the man. “Too hot. No water. The pomegranate trees are dead and there’s no hope for barley or sorghum.”
Their sallow, gray faces underscore the urgency of his words.
“Where will we go?” the woman pleads.
“Anywhere but here,” he says. “The fighting is getting closer.”
The teen, standing beside her mother, turns toward you with a painful expression that shocks you with a jolt of recognition.
I know her, you realize, from news stories. From the radio. I tried not to listen. I tried not to see her face.
You heard about the famine in Yemen — some call it the greatest humanitarian crisis on the planet — triggered by climate change, exacerbated by American bombs that destroyed hospitals and schools and utilities, killing thousands of civilians, catapulting innocent people into a hopeless pit of despair. America’s ever-increasing thirst for oil reinforced our alliance with Saudi Arabia in this regional conflict with international consequences.
As your friends’ laughter invades the apparition and roll across the crusty terraces, your peripheral vision reminds you of burgers and bling and why you need to eat mor chikin.
And yet her pleading eyes break your heart with their unspoken supplication.
Your chest heaves and your soul cries out, What can I do? I’m just one person!
You feel so helpless and yet you know that’s not true.
Her hypnotic brown eyes bore their way into your marrow.
“Why are you just staring … speechless?” Chuck asks.
You wrench your eyes away from the visual cacophony, into the grinning face of Chuck. You are astounded to see that he looks so cheerful.
So elated. As if life can’t get any better than this.
Without a word, you fill your chest with street air, the same air that’s passed through the warm bodies of thousands of merchants and cops and street people and tourists like you. You turn back toward the boulevard.
All of Times Square, now, is blurred by the tears streaming from your eyes.
“What do you think?” Chuck says. “It’s crazy awesome, huh?”
The question claps like a gunshot through your incongruent thoughts.
What do I think? 
Image: White House Photo by Shealah Craighead, Public Domain.
 “Yemen’s Humanitarian Catastrophe, in One Chart,” by Alex Ward, Vox, 30 January 2019, www.vox.com/2019/1/30/18203857/yemen-war-deaths-injured-chart-intelligence.
“Yemen: The Heroic Struggle of Farmers to Grow Food Amidst Chaos and War,” by Marinella Correggia, Internationalist 360, 18 February 2019, https://libya360.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/yemen-the-heroic-struggle-of-farmers-to-grow-food-amidst-chaos-and-war/.
“The Power to Light up Times Square,” The World by Road Collective, https://theworldbyroad.com/2013/07/the-power-to-light-up-times-square/.