Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Trying to Survive

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.

9 comments:

barbfromcincy said...

Prayers going up for you...
I plan on writing you an email later..may God bless and comfort you this day.

Amber said...

I'm teetering on the edge right now - I'm trying to survive by keeping that armor tight and even but I think the chink has become apparent. A dear, dear woman - someone I admire immensely and who has been a big influence in my life - had a serious stroke last night. I was totally out the blue - she's only 48 years old. I keep welling up throughout the day today, but I'm not sure how much longer I can hold back.

Anyways, I was really struck by your last line - I'm not sure if that's what I want either.

barbfromcincy said...

Wow, Amber, I'll say a prayer for that woman...she's my age. That sure hits home...
God's blessings on her and you...

MrsDarwin said...

I'm very sorry to hear about that, Amber. You and she are in my prayers.

It helps if you put your kids to bed before you crack, if that's any sort of advice.

barbfromcincy said...

I also wanted to add how much I liked your last statement in this entry..I think that if people try to bottle up the bad feelings so that they don't have to feel them, they risk never really feeling the good things either.
A blessed night to you....

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Given the kind of hours Darwin has had to work lately, I am not surprised to hear you are stressed. I hope you find some support locally soonish.

MrsDarwin said...

Thanks, Kiwi. It's funny how sympathy even from half-way around the world can resonate. :)

Jennifer F. said...

Wow. You've really touched a nerve. I've been thinking about this very thing lately (I'm also on the Food for the Poor mailing list and have made some small donations). My issue is this: the suffering of others, especially children, bothers me SO much, that I'm afraid if I let down my armor I won't even be able to function. E.g. if I let myself really feel for the little girl in their brochure then I have to think about the kids in Dafur; and then I think about children who are abused by parents...I'll spare any more examples but you get the idea.

So what is one to do? I'm sure that this line of thinking comes from my spiritual immaturity, but I just feel like if I don't keep up the "not going to think about that" armor I'll collapse under the weight of my sorrow. I know that that's not the right answer but I just don't know how else to handle it. Any thoughts?

Amber said...

Thanks - I appreciate it. I managed to hold on until last night before I cracked. I've been making it a habit to visit the chapel after RCIA, and I knew the moment I started my genuflection that I couldn't hold back any longer. But hey, a darkened chapel with only the Blessed Sacrament as company is not a bad place to let go.