The selfishness of inaction

pat. pat. pat. pat.

It’s 4am and I stand above the crib in my 6 month old’s room, rhythmically patting his back in an attempt to get him back to sleep after a nighttime waking.

pat. pat. pat. pat.

In the dim light I watch as he slowly calms and starts resting.

pat. pat. pat. pat.

Did I mention it’s 4 am? And I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in 6 months? I am so tired. A full nights’ sleep would give me so much more energy and brain power. I start feeling sorry for myself. Poor me.

An image flashes before me.

I push it aside. I don’t want to think about that. I haven’t thought about it in weeks. I don’t want to.

The image flashes again.

A memory. A horrible memory of Africa.

I continue patting. I continue thinking of me and my woes. I feel a nagging feeling, a pulling at my heartstrings. A baby, a mother, a brother, a grandmother. NO. I don’t want to remember. I’m too busy feeling sorry for myself.

Slowly, gently, I feel God speak to me through the softening of my heart.

Here I am, a privileged person to have travelled to Africa and seen first hand the issues of poverty, AIDS, starvation, lack of clean drinking water, lack of education and most of time, I want to forget. I want to believe it was all a dream, that a world like that just cannot exist. Sure, it’s a coping strategy. If I thought of the devastation around this planet, I’d sink so far into a depression I don’t think I’d ever come out.

Here I am. I went there. I saw it. And still, inaction. I want to forget.

The dim light in the room illuminates my healthy son sleeping on his comfortable mattress in his hardwood crib with a crocheted blanket that his great grandmother made laying on top of him. Africa is so far away.

The image flashes again and this time I cannot ignore it. It’s a beautiful day in South Africa and me a few others are surrounded by ugliness. We’re in an informal settlement, a slum. We’re going on home visits of people in the community suffering with HIV/AIDS. We come to a one room tin shack with a dirt floor. As we approach, I notice a towel on the floor, an older woman in a chair, a young woman lying on the ground and, in the darkness, a boy about 7 years old behind the woman. Lizzie, the social worker, lifts up the tattered towel to reveal a small baby underneath. I have to look carefully to see if the baby is breathing.

“The towel is to keep the flies away”. And it’s true. As soon as the towel is lifted, flies settle all over the baby.

I find out the baby, a girl, is 8 months old but looks the size that my son was at 8 weeks. Her mother is crippled. Her brother is disabled and cannot go to a school for there are no schools for disabled children. Her grandmother stays as much as she can to help. But what help can she bring? There is no food. A dirty empty bottle lay by the baby.

I shake myself out of the trance to find myself weeping. I look around me and see a healthy sleeping baby, a furnished room, heat spilling in through the vent, dressers filled with clothes and diapers. Toys littering the floor. A house that is clean and safe. Two healthy parents to take care of this boy etc. etc. etc. Africa feels even farther away.

Nosipho. Lillian. Angelina. Sammi. Those are their names – the baby, the mother, the grandmother, the boy. They are real people half a world away.

How could I have hardened my heart to these individuals? I have denied their very existence so that I can justify my life and what I buy and what I do with all the many resources I have. I imagine that Angelina is born in Canada, crocheting a blanket for her granddaughter. But she doesn’t have the resources, the education, health, that my grandmother had. She didn’t choose to be born into Apartheid, into poverty.

Here I am, craving, begging, pleading for a full night’s sleep and Lillian is pleading for her next meal, a Dr., ARV’s, food for her children, education for her son. I feel so selfish. I am so selfish, most of the time.

Here I am, half a world away and I can make a difference.

    I can be compassionate and radically generous by giving more money, by going without my wants in order that someone will have what they need.
    I can pray for health, for hope, for MCC and the organizations they work with.
    I can remember daily the many struggles in Africa. Whether you have traveled there or not, you know the devastation of AIDS and extreme poverty, you’ve seen pictures, you’ve heard stories. We aren’t ignorant.

It’s a choice to be inactive, a selfish choice.
It’s a choice to live with radical generosity, a compassionate choice.


4 responses to “The selfishness of inaction”

  1. Whew. Thanks for that reminder. I’ve been in a funk this afternoon; Haydon’s not letting me get done the things I want to. You’ve reminded me how blessed I am to have a healthy (usually happy) baby pulling me away from my clothesline full of clothes, and cupboards full of food that I want to bake with.

  2. thank you for sharing, heidi. perspective is so important and i need these reminders on most, if not all, days.

  3. Thank you for sharing, Heidi. I cried with you today. Life in this world is terribly hard……

  4. Well said. Thanks for sharing.

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