There are people in this world who are decent. There are people in this world who are hard-hearted bastards. It is in many ways about the values we learn and maybe even about seeing our place in the world thru Faith…any Faith…or any unconventional belief system.
Like the man who craved “Salvation” and was told to give half of what he owned away. Not easy…whether as a Christian or a Socialist. Certainly if we owned two houses we could give one away…or two cars…but if we have just two pairs of shoes, it is hard to give one away.
Giving “half” away is more difficult than dropping a pound in the St Vincent de Paul box. Or the Salvation Army box….but mostly it is about dodging the young people in Belfast and Dublin …the “chuggers” (charity muggers) who want us to sign up to support a charity….or avoid eye contact with the women from Eastern Europe who are selling “the Big Issue”.
We are a strange nation. For us oldies, go back just four or five generations and we become undocumented, nameless, faceless. And we prefer it that way. If we really knew more, we would become uncomfortable with the our family histories of poverty, imprisonment, desparation…and the compromises our ancestors made to just survive.
We live in better times. My father was a generous man. Would never pass a person in visible distress.
It is only three or four decades since crossing O’Connell Bridge in Dublin or walking thru Chapel Lane in Belfast was to see “gypsies” (as we then called “travellers”) women…begging often with children. We were all slightly afraid to decline. Now thats a thing of the past.
Except that it is not a thing of the past. The brief respite from facing human misery ended during the Balkan Wars, when the first desparate families arrived in Berlin, Paris and London…and Belfast….and more recently the desperate come from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
We have mixed feelings. We avoid eye contact. That works best or we compromise by giving some small change to the first person we see. Thereafter we can live with our consciences. And we all know the anecdotes from the harder hearted people who have seen the beggars picked up in fancy cars at the end of the day.
And we have heard the stories of the young migrant flower-sellers routinely, verbally-abused by drunken students from Queens University.
We do not like our comfort disturbed.
The decent people become more decent when we become parents. Impossible to see the suffering of an Ethiopian two year old in 1984 except thru the prism of the two year old playing on the floor. We cant give away half…just buy “Do They Know Its Christmas?” And look away.
And yet the Famine is a natural disaster. No Evil Hand in it. So harder to watch the news report of the six year old in India, who begs for a meagre living . He hands over his earnings to the gangmasters and he is given some back for food. The image has haunted me for maybe twenty years.
These things creep up on me. Like the RTE report tonight of the children from Syria…siblings in Istanbul begging in the tourist cafes. Heartbraking. Worse now as I see these things thru the prism of my grandchildren.
What is “Keeping an Eye on the Czar of Russia” all about. My vanity project about meaningless politics, Brexit, sordid civil war, sordid peace….crap.
The real heroes are those who are doing something meaningful. I cant give half. Yes I have more than one pair of shoes and clothes I wore once. And really more shaving foam and razor blades than I need. And theres a container leaving Belfast for Greece next week. And maybe I should send some stuff.
The World is a sick place. The one good thing about Life is that sooner or later it is all over.