A YEAR TO LEARN
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
December 29, 2008
BRADENTON, Fla., Dec. 29, 2008 - You can't watch events in the Middle East, South Asia or on the world's financial pages without a deep sense of foreboding. Hair-trigger tempers paired with nuclear arsenals threaten even more wars, while huge financial frauds and vast stock market debacles dash our hopes for a better world economy. Basic human needs for food, water, shelter, clothing and clean air go unmet in dozens of nations. A deep malaise of the human spirit pervades much of humanity with anger, hatred, despair, and hopelessness. Meanwhile, millions embrace Mayan predictions that the end of the world will come in 2012. It certainly feels like it could, sometimes.
Religion has been central to my life for a long time. I think of faith as a verb, a force that creates the river when the cowboys on horseback fleeing for their lives have to jump off a cliff. For me, Buddhism is Christianity inside out. Christians hear the words that "the kingdom is within you" and "Ye are gods" and proceed to look for a God in Heaven. Buddhists distance believers ever farther from the real possibility of enlightenment, substituting what the Bible calls "heathen repetitions" for personal acts that can transform oneself and the world.
Yet I turn inward, usually, when I see our battered world heaving and shaking in apparent death throes as humanity fails to meet the challenges the time presents. There I can find the quiet to imagine and understand, to hope and to create. Those are the inner things that change the outer world, or at least some small part of mine. Prayer is a part of this turning, often, but so is surrender - of those things I know only a loving God can solve. The voices that cried out in the Irish famine, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Rwandan massacres, the atrocities in Kosovo and the depredations in Darfur are identical: they say the Devil hears them as music. We hear them as one great scream coming from a hundred million mouths at once, all uttered in the universal language of despair.
I think that we are human only to the degree that we can hear those voices. I know abstractly that they are out there, but I am not where they occur and I can only imagine them. Most of the world's despair is like that - left to the imagination of those who don't have to or cannot or will not hear. Journalists go to faraway places to report them with first-hand authority, and too often return home to learn that few have read their accounts and that little has been done.
Why does the situation in Darfur persist when so many nations, and the United Nations as an institution, so thoroughly acknowledge it? Do those victims in the Sudan not scream sufficiently loud? Why can't we hear them in a way that propels us to action as surely as a falling piano would move us to get out of the way? That answer is painful: we are partly dead. The end of the world has already come to many of us. It is just a matter of time before the air stops moving in and out of their lungs. The dead hear nothing.
What has killed us? The constant corruption of our political life, the deep, ground-in fact of it that tells us there is nothing we can do, anyway, is one of the key weapons. The homogenization of news, so that the same story appears in a thousand newspapers in exactly the same words, is another, presenting a bleak wall of greater indifference than most of us can scale. By the time the words and images come to television, and are again homogenized, the sound of voices in the background is eliminated altogether. It becomes what the on-air newsperson says it is, not the noise and chaos and death that it really is. So we die as the human world cries out in its real pain, struggling to melt our indifference, apathy and passivism.
Then our leaders, who may even be willing to help, find themselves even further circumscribing the screams. They reduce it all to one or two words the vast apathetic public can potentially remember, and give speeches about it to those who make it a habit of hearing speeches. A handful are moved to join an organization that sends people and food and money to help.
At the end of the day, for every person who knows the meaning of the word Darfur, which is actually just a benighted region in the Sudan, and who puts himself or herself in the way of the ruthless killers known as the Janjaweed when they go to some grim desert town in Darfur, 1 million who have heard of the problem will do nothing. Out of 500 million, only 500 will stand up.
That is how rare courage and real caring are in the world of the dead. Dead, that is, to the screams of Darfur, as they also were to those of Rwanda, Kosovo, Nazi Germany, Armenia, Ireland and countless places whose names and horrors have not survived the centuries. God, for all I know, may pitch the rest of us, all screaming, into Hell. Then again, He may just forgive us and let us go on to another life to resume our pathway to Him in the form of rocks, dust and cockroaches.
And if there is no God? Then faith that has made rivers will leave rivers behind, and men and women will use those to go new places. Those people will have a brief window of time to learn how to attune themselves to the living world. They can choose to hear, choose to live. They can change things. Governments that do nothing can be prodded to act quickly and together to shield the mass of innocents when they are brutalized, oreven beforehand. As long as there are babies, there is hope. God is a greater hope.
I hope many of us will use this New Year and the opportunity it offers for new resolutions to persuade themselves to listen, to learn, to deepen themselves and their sensitivity to the screaming world. You're in my prayers. God bless you all.