A few weeks ago we received an appeal from Food for the Poor which included a DVD called Trying to Survive. The girls agitated to watch it, but Darwin and I wanted to see it first to make sure the content wasn't too upsetting for small children. This mailing must have been a big initiative for Food for the Poor -- they even called up to make sure we'd gotten it, and asked that we watch it. (The caller, a woman with a beautiful Caribbean-esque accent, even said a prayer for me over the phone -- it sounds corny but I was genuinely touched and felt oddly vulnerable.)
We hadn't had time to watch the DVD yet, and yesterday the girls decided to go ahead and put it in while I was finishing up a phone call. I was going to protest, but stopped myself -- why should I shield them from the fact that there's poverty in the world and that some children have to live in unimaginable squalor? So I sat with them and watched the short photo-documentary about life in the slums of Cap Haitien. The girls were particularly impressed by a picture of a malnourished young girl sitting quietly in front of a ramshackle doorway, wearing her best dress for a visit to a nurse. They were full of questions about her and her family and her yellow dress.
I realized with a shock of guilt that every time I started to feel moved by the images of heart-breaking poverty, I would deliberately draw back and shut myself off. I've felt stressed of late, and I didn't want the burden of compassion laid on top of all the other weights I've been carrying. Opening up emotionally even once could mean that I would risk weakening the whole defensive structure I'd built up over the past few weeks. And so I resisted responding naturally and with love to a despairing mother holding her starving child because I didn't want to carry her sorrows.
And so I allowed myself to grieve for the sufferings of the slum-dwellers, and perhaps that put a fatal chink in my protective armor, because last night it all came crashing down around me. Was it better that way? I don't know -- I wish I could have held on longer. But if the price of keeping a stiff upper lip is hardening my heart to impenetrability, I don't know if that's what I want anymore.
You can see "Trying to Survive" here.