One of the benefits of having lived so close to the edge for so long is that I don’t take a damn thing for granted. I know what it’s like to be facing losing (and then actually losing) my home. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one to addiction, to parent alone, to be afraid, to be facing homelessness, to be dependent on the charity of others. I know the sting and humiliation of throwing my lot at the mercy of an overworked DSHS caseworker in hopes of receiving aid. I know what it feels like to have our names on paper ornaments on the Giving Christmas Tree, where a “Boy, Age 8” would like some Legos and a coat. I know well the spaces inhabiting our periphery, the margins of our lives, where we all hope to never go, and where hope is all you’ve got if you get there.
So when people talk about the state of the world, of the decay of society- it baffles me. The talking points and even the themes I hear sometimes at church and from the news networks just don’t fit with my lived experience. Contrary to the obtuse bloviating of pundits and doomsayers, I don’t see the hand-basket to hell overflowing- as a matter of fact, I think it’s nearly empty.
Whichever direction you face, you can see people doing good in the world. It would be hard to look past the good being done, it is so pervasive.
In my own life, despite the challenges and sometimes near catastrophic consequences of agency, there were mechanisms and safety nets and hands outstretched waiting to help. I lost my home, but I was able to uncouple myself legally to protect myself and my kids. My children’s father was swallowed by addiction, but there were laws, judges and courts to assure my children were protected AND that their father was protected- from himself and from doing further damage. Addiction is a nasty beast slouching around the land, but there are programs and therapies dedicated everywhere to slaying him. Yes, I was suddenly impoverished and without any child support and no hope of receiving any- but there were welfare programs in place for people just like me. Yes, it was hard to navigate some of it, and it’s difficult to prove qualification- but there are people who dedicate their lives to protecting the poor and needy, and do so without great financial gain themselves. I couldn’t provide gifts for children at the holidays, but how wonderful there are people who care enough to make sure children like mine are not forgotten. I was able to qualify for low-interest student loans and get an education, so I would be able to remove myself from desperation. Yes, work was required of me, but it was work I could not have done had there not been help available. My pride? Obliterated. But also obliterated was any notion or lingering idea that the blessings of any life were somehow owed or earned. “There but for the grace of God go I” is more than an idea.
Pulling back from my personal experience, I see these acts of good expanding, like a beautiful fractal, in the world at large. There are people working all over the world to help and aid the disadvantaged, whether it’s engineering systems of waste disposal in Central America, or digging wells in African villages in so families can have potable water. There are programs everywhere, addressing every corner of need. NGO’s work to increase access to education for girls in central Asia. There are micro lending programs to help women start small businesses in order to support their families. Homeless shelters and rehabilitation programs can be found in every urban area. Organizations provide malarial nets to curb the devastating effects of mosquito born illnesses. Children with disabilities who were once written off as expendable now receive therapy and IEP’s and attend classrooms where their needs are not only met, but their lives are expanded and they contribute to the world. Cargo ships and airlifts of food, medication, and aid workers pour into areas devastated by natural disasters. Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers dot the globe working to vaccinate and eradicate childhood diseases and mortality.
It doesn’t matter if this feels inadequate- to quote Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “What we do is nothing but a drop in the ocean, but if we didn’t do it, the ocean would be one drop less than it is.” We are imperfect, and there is grace in our imperfection.
People care. People are willing to extend themselves perhaps more so and with better results than at any time in history. It wasn’t so long ago that the poor were considered expendable. Children were sent to work in coal mines or worse, women could be legally beaten by their spouses and couldn’t vote or get an education, and human beings could be bought and sold as property. These things are, of course, still happening in pockets of the globe- but human consciousness and concern is eroding those spaces, like water over stone. I submit that we are more aware of the plight and pain of our brothers and sisters, and willing to do something about it, than at any time in human history.
There is more to do. Ever so. The work will never be done- but I find awe and beauty in the actual actions of so many of my fellow humans, willing to leave their comfort zones and challenge their assumptions, and to roll up their sleeves and get to the real work of a life worth living.