Universal sorrow

There is a picture at the Newseum that haunts me. It was taken in the Sudaan. On a dirt road, a small child crouches, head bent touching the earth in a swoon of evident exhaustion. That the child is starving is obvious. Behind the child, a vulture waits expectantly.

The photo was taken back in 1994, but time and distance do not lessen its impact. I am there at the Newseum with my granddaughter who has never lacked for a day without love, caring, tenderness, shelter, food, water, and nurturing. The contrasting truth strikes home in one easy, swift stroke.

It is not so difficult to care for a child.

But it was impossible for an entire country to care for that one child in the photo. If it were an isolated incident, my heart would not be so wounded, except I know it continues.

We all owe that child and every child we let die of starvation, neglect, or abuse our own lives.

I sit here in my self-imposed luxury of American life and wonder why — if we are indeed the co-creators of our existence — why would we allow such misery to proliferate when there is easily a huge abundance of our basic necessities available?

And it is not so hard to love a child.

But even the photographer of that picture walked away, constricted by the rules of the time and society. Perhaps he thought that the picture would speak in a thousand more languages to save thousands more children than had he intervened to try and save one child.

My mind cannot even grasp the karmic platitudes that people use to rationalize starvation and abandonment in a world that supports 7 billion humans.

It is not so impossible to feed a child.

I know that such images, this knowledge, these truths find me as much as I find them. And I feel the sorrow of the universal consciousness as it nudges me and urges me to do something.

But I don’t know what.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

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11 Responses to “Universal sorrow”

  1. dennycoates Says:

    Your heartfelt post is a good start.

  2. Barbara Kass Says:

    thanks; sometimes all I have are words

  3. sandiwhite Says:

    Barbara, my brother David was on one of the last American planes to leave the Sudan, flying out of Khartuom in a small jet along with other officials from the Embassy. His wife was allowed to leave, forcibly I might add, under her Venezuelan passport just a few days prior to his very hurried departure. He brought back photos of the last moments there. All showed the most abject misery possible, tin shacks, blowing dust and a dehydrated, starving population. These photos were illegally taken out of the country, believe me, they wanted none of this to get out. Relief efforts never reached the ones they were intended for, they were always confiscated by the “war lords” often Sudanese officials and were sold to the highest bidder. We have never seen in our worst moments of American History such a complete demoralization of our people nor do I believe we ever will. Not in my life time anyway. What can we do for them? Nothing. Their own Government has killed them.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      If we are all of the same consciousness . . . the One . . . then what happens to any one person happens to us all. I believe we have the power to create a different existence for all of us. I just don’t know how to make it happen. I understand the politics of war-ridden countries and have even heard the quotes of soldiers who demand the food, taking it away from the women and children, saying “We can make more children and get more women.” I cannot answer the question in myself about why we create such an existence and why we allow it to continue. We can create anything we want. Why did we choose to create the circumstances of war, famine, etc.? What purpose do those things serve in the greater evolution of humans? The only thought that comes to my mind is so we learn not to do it.

  4. sandiwhite Says:

    I’m just not seeing that happen anytime soon. I pray for a peaceful world twice a day at least. If not in this lifetime, maybe the next.

  5. ntexas99 Says:

    barbara, your post stirs many emotions. I remember the first time I saw that photo (about three years ago). I was stunned by the horror and hopelessness the image conveys. On the one hand, you see an image like that and every cell of your body screams for action, and yet, as you sit quietly in front of your television or computer, you wonder what it is that you can do to erase such images from our world. Sorrow has many dimensions, and you have captured the presence of sorrow in a profound and painful way.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Nancy — there are so many opportunities that repeatedly come our way to stop and change what is happening in our world. But like the photo, we take a snapshot and then walk away. This is occurring by agreement in our world. All of us have agreed to have incompetent and greedy people control governments and nations. Some say it is because the competent people have better sense than to try and run a country. I don’t know what I can do to stop the mass destruction of our soul on earth, except to be mindful that it is happening and to hold some kind of internal light that makes space for a new co-existence founded on mutual respect and love.

  6. Gil Says:

    Thank you for your thought provoking post. Because of where I live I am confronted by these kinds of images daily. It can be very overwhelming. On garbage collection day there is a band of people that come and go through the garbage looking for food. We may not have war in our country but the toll of AIDS and poverty on society is devastating. The estimate is that one in four is is infected. In certain sections of the population child headed households are the norm. Unfortunately the government is not fulfilling its obligations. They squander and misappropriate taxpayers monies, while the children starve on the streets. There is only so much that individuals and NGOs can do.
    On Sunday morning at about 3am some children (they must have been small enough to fit though the burglar bars) broke into my home via the pantry window , while we were sleeping. They stole groceries and the kettle. Sure I feel violated, but also sorry that this is what they have to do to survive. I sorrow for these children that live such short brutal lives, and grieve for the death of their communities.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Gil — I know that you live where corruption rules peoples lives and it is enough to do just to keep yourself safe and fed. As individual humans, that is our first responsibility: to take care of ourselves. I cannot begin to guess the way our universe works so that some of us are born into societies where we are taken care of and others are born where life is primitive and punishing. I look at the technology and amount of energy we spend creating all sorts of structures both material and intrinsic structures like creating a clean water supply and I think: we have the ability to change life on earth but we don’t yet have the knowledge or integration of self to realize the methods that will work.

  7. holessence Says:

    Barbara – A thought-provoking, heart-wrenching post. I don’t have tje answer. Might I recomment that you get the video “Nobelity” from your library. It’s a look at the world top 10 problems through the eyes of nine Nobel Lauret eyes/perspective. It’s an amazing video. And while it doesn’t have the answer — it definitely sheds light on the problems of this world.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — thanks for recommending the video. I will definitely watch it. As a public health worker, I know that the solutions and band-aids we apply to the problem will never work under the underlying cause is resolved.

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