Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Who is My Neighbor?

Like so many of us, I was sad to the point of spontaneous tears in the days that followed the school shootings at Newtown CT. I was so angry that I would diatribe to whoever was kind or trapped enough to listen. Leaving aside the specifics of the gun debate, I wonder what it is we do with these feelings. We feel, we express and…what then? I wonder what our responsibility is as citizens, as parents, as people that believe in God, a greater good, and love. What is our responsibility for and to each other?
I am amazed at how readily we tolerate inaction when we can’t agree on the exact cause of a problem – as if denial is a valid solution. We do it as a society all the time. Some of our leaders ignore the overwhelming evidence of global warming that threaten the lives of our grandchildren and the very world we’ve been given. The most blessed and powerful nation on Earth allows so many of its’ citizens to get sick or die by refusing to provide them adequate and available health care. Children in certain neighborhoods are denied the education necessary to succeed in our society. Drug laws and oppressive economic policies seem to deliberately target certain segments of the population. Our economic system requires a low wage worker to work 2 jobs just to survive, thus denying that worker’s child the parental guidance so critical for success. We just had a presidential election that engrossed us but directed almost zero attention to these issues. Denial.
Destructive weather patterns, inconsistent or non-existent health care, and an oppressive criminal justice and economic policies affect millions of Americans. Who is responsible to do something about it if not every one of us as citizens, parents and believers?
With the Newtown tragedy, like many, I had to turn off the TV coverage sometimes. It was just too much, too sad. It was debilitating in the short-term. Self-preservation begs for a break and that’s okay. Less okay is to walk away from that raw reality in the long-term - for that ensures that more lives will be shattered. Just as they are in poorer and more violent neighborhoods throughout this country every day.
Are we relieved of responsibility when it is happening over there, to someone else? The residents of Newtown were shocked because such devastation doesn’t happen in their (kind of) town. Thankfully this scale of tragedy only happens anywhere very rarely. Still, kids get hurt or killed by guns every day in some neighborhoods. And now, weeks later we are barely recognizing the pain of those parents as we identify the problem and offer tempered solutions.
We are all reacting after Newtown, after Sandy, and after the economic crisis because it is these truths that we deliberately ignored that have come to our gates. That could have been our children, our homes, and our jobs and savings.
Aren’t we fooling ourselves (ultimately to our tragic detriment) when we don’t see those wrongs before they get to our gate, while they are ravaging our neighbors? Jacquelyn happens to be President of the Board of a non-profit in our town that asks the biblical question, “Who is My Neighbor?” It’s a challenging and an uncomfortable query. Isn’t it time we buck up, recognize some obvious truths, and advocate for the neighbors just beyond our gates.
After all, the gates are illusory and we are, in fact, all neighbors.

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