Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Making a Difference
Some weeks I am painfully aware of the rest of the world. Disasters both natural and man-made leaving grief and misery in their wake. This has been one of those weeks.
I read about the terrible typhoon in the Philippines... a place that holds a special place in my heart. I can picture the people, the sights, the smells. I can feel the humidity, smell the taste the ocean. But I was well-fed when I was there. I had my own room and a big warm bed. I had fresh water, a cool pool for swimming, a hot shower, an air conditioned office. I had friends surrounding me, family waiting for me, and a sparkling new diamond on my finger.
I read about a priest spending the first day after the storm going around blessing corpses. Of people gathering at the Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Tacloban. "I do not think that word means what you think it means." Some thank God for sparing their lives, others ask "Why?". A priest tells them God could not prevent the storm. Scared and confused, victims pray for no more calamities.
I wish I could do something for the hundreds of thousands of pregnant women in the area affected by Typhoon Haiyan. I picture the many women giving birth without proper assistance or sanitation, early labors precipitated by stress or dehydration. Struggling to breastfeed and care for newborns without adequate shelter or clean water. All while the Catholic Church fights government attempts to distribute contraception and education.
My first real information about contraception came from single Protestant missionary women in the Philippines. No one had ever told me how my fertility worked. As I edited simple little picture booklets for a language group on Mt. Apo, I was so grateful. Armed with new knowledge and curiosity, I headed to the library and pored over old books describing "the Billings method". It wasn't much, but it gave me hope that motherhood could be a chosen calling, rather than a cross to be borne.
I look at pictures of life in a camp for Syrian refugees. Women younger than me with twice as many kids, trying to create a stable life for their families who will be grown up too soon. Trying to keep them them clean and fed and clothed and safe. Sleepless nights in drafty tents worrying about the next day and relatives left behind. Children who will learn, but what lessons they absorb depends on how the adults in their lives interpret the world for them.
So I am reminded of Mr. Rogers' quote, "Look for the helpers."
The world is a big place. I can do a little to shine a light in the dark places, but at the end of the day my sphere in the wide, wide universe feels woefully small, my efficacy minuscule.
I stop looking at the distance and focus on what is around me. My children. My husband. I am still the brightest star in their sky. I light their world, interpret it, in many ways define it. And there are so many ways I can take care of them, show them that they are valuable and worthy of respect. In numerous little ways I am able to make their lives easier, their bodies more comfortable, their hearts strong and courageous.
My voice may not carry across the globe, but I am teaching my daughters to speak up for themselves, to defend the less fortunate, to hunger for justice and thirst for understanding. I may not be able to do much for my traumatized sisters in Southeast Asia, or in the Middle East, or even in Illinois and Indiana, but I can inspire and support and cheer on the amazing women with whom I share mitochondrial DNA--my younger sisters, now scattered across the globe, who are making their own brave choices every day.
I can create a safe and happy space for my own family. I can make space for beauty, for kindness, for leisure. I can invest energy in making my tiny piece of the planet a little bit cozier.
So this week I brightened a hallway with a new coat of paint. (My husband always feels like he lives in a new house when I finish a paint project, and he likes that feeling!) I bought a new plant. I replenished the cracker jar with homemade treats. I served a dinner with everyone's favorite foods. I gave my morning girl a special breakfast before she left for school. I took my youngest to the optometrist to have her glasses readjusted properly; she felt special getting so much attention and looking at herself in the mirrors. I'll visit her classroom this week, and listen to my son sing in his school concert.
Today I will make a pot of chili and when the onions make me cry I will think of all the women around the world working hard in all kinds of ways to create environments of warmth and stability for themselves and the people they love. We are making a difference.