I have been pondering the nature of compassion, or the nature of mine in any case, while I live in a country that has so many poor people while I am so comparatively rich. Walking anywhere outside involves the possibility of street beggars pulling at my shirt and heart, looking for a few pesos. How many of them really need it is hard to tell. I am pretty sure the bent over old ladies or the mothers with infants need it. There are also quite a few cripples in wheelchairs and makeshift hand operated bicycles that could use some help. How I choose to distribute funds to them is baffling to me. What makes me give out change to one old lady and not another? It appears to be quite random, based on the whim of the moment and not on any criteria. Musicians in the street almost always get some spare change while I may walk stiffly by a destitute man dragging himself through the plaza with his hands. I have so much and they have so little.
I do harden my heart and keep emotional distance at times when they plead with me, to keep from being affected by their predicament. People viewed from a distance are fuzzier, not too clear. The person is there, but the details are lacking. It is easier to give to institutions or agencies back in the states. Donating to a faceless charity affords me protection from personal contact with the recipients, even though a lot of the money is used for “administrative costs”.
When I walk the streets of the city, there is no protection from the plight of the poor, other than my own walls. As I sit in my hotel room and dream up new poems or stories, I sometimes feel that these are worthless endeavors. A man in pain does not want to hear my poetry; he wants relief from his malady. A rumbling stomach drowns out the sound of the orchestra. Cold and shivering people will take the quilt you have hung up on the wall and wrap themselves up in its warmth. Only when the basic needs of health and hunger are sated can the deeper paths be followed.
It is not easy to walk and carry walls at the same time. They are heavy and block the view of both the good and the bad, so it is a relief to cast them off at times, until slowly, brick by brick they are re-assembled by the poor holding their bricks. Maybe I’ll put in a window, or maybe I will become more generous to the hands that reach out.
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