Scope of Distance
By Ruth LeFaive
comes down again outside of my apartment window. With socks and
fleece to fight the chill, I sip hot tea and skim the internet headlines:
Bush Voices Concern on . . . Leading Shiite Party Selects . . .
Supreme Court to Consider . . . 6.4 Magnitude Earthquake in Iran
. . . Man Charged in . . . Wait. 6.4 earthquake in Iran. I wonder
if Mary felt it. I get the globe from the top shelf. Oh, I see now.
It's Iraq and Syria that together could almost fit comfortably inside
of Texas, and Iran is on the other side. Relief. Mary in Syria,
my new friend, is safe.
If you follow the AP headlines with a good internet connection,
you can see the death toll rise minute by minute. 320 when I started
writing this, up to 380 now. No matter how high the number gets,
the fact remains that I do not know the names of anyone there. My
chest does get that barely perceptible sensation that comes with
sympathy, but that's hardly akin to knowing a person, and her name.
Mary is safe. Thank God. I don't mean to sound heartless, but I
think it's human nature to react this way.
the time even just 200 years ago, when the scope of what a human
being had to cope with was restricted to their own personal life
events -- or maybe the events of the people in their village. One
could make it through an entire lifetime without ever being aware
of an earthquake on a different continent or the murder three towns
over. Not to mention genocides and plagues and factory fires. Compare
that with what we hear today in just five minutes of CNN with its
crawl and sub-crawl of facts coming at us. All we can do is cap
off our emotions -- only let so much in. But it's different when
you make a friend. When you know a person's name. Mary is safe.
While the globe is here next to me, I put my right index finger
on the border between Iraq and Syria. Then I put my left index finger
on Southern California. At the same time, I put my nose on the North
Pole and look down. I see my hands touching opposite sides of the
world. Maybe this is the way God sees us; so big he can palm our
whole planet like a playground dodge ball. Yet, I'm so very sure
he's right outside my apartment window knowing precisely how many
raindrops have landed in the abandoned houseplant on the ledge.
Oh Creator. His views are Both-And. Plus, All of the Above. He knows
all of our names. He knows what the stray cat next to the abandoned
plant scavenged for breakfast, and how immensely hungry it felt
before that meal. And he knows I'm going to stay in my pajamas,
pour some more hot tea and sit down to write an e-mail to Mary.
He knows this before I know it. And he knows I'll write something
naively idealistic like this to her:
if we all had friends across the world? What if every person in
every country had an intimate connection with someone else on the
other side of the globe? Wouldn't that change the face of foreign
all fine to dream that way, but rather than belting out my favorite
John Lennon song, why don't I ask myself some better questions?
Such as, what if I learned the names of the people in the apartment
next to me? Not only the ones who unknowingly provide this speedy
wireless connection I'm so grateful for, but also the ones who play
their music too loudly right up until 10 pm on Thursday nights.
What if I didn't mind talking to Mike the Veteran outside of the
Starbucks because I wasn't afraid he needs more than I can provide?
What if I tried getting to know the woman in the laundry room even
though her English isn't very good and my Spanish is even worse?
What if I stopped imagining the answers to these questions and actually
set out to act on them?
if I don't give it a try, why not? Is it because the distance from
my shoulder to the tip of my index finger to a spot on one side
of the globe is as close as I want to get?
death toll is up to 400 in Iran. It's still raining here. In under
a minute I can tell you the number of inches of rain we've had this
year. And in the same minute, I can tell you the name of the long-term
dictator of Togo. Ask me any question . . . just as long as it's
not about the people in my apartment building. I've got some work
to do on that.
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