Yesterday marked 5 years since my Uncle Roger passed away at the age of 59. He hadn’t been in the best of health for awhile before his departure, but life just prior to his death had been wrapped up in cancer treatments and the complications thereof. I saw him at the family reunion the summer before he passed away, and while he was loving as always, he was quieter, weaker, and sicker than I’d ever seen him. I would never see him again.
About three weeks before he died, though, he called me. He was so excited about the upcoming birth of my little boy. I had been through my own bout with cancer only a year before, and I don’t think any of us imagined that a year later, I’d be having a baby. Yet, a baby was on the way. My uncle told me he wasn’t feeling well after his chemotherapy. He had throat cancer, and he told me that he felt like he’d swallowed shards of glass. He hadn’t been able to eat, and had been threatened with having a feeding tube put in if he didn’t find a way to at least swallow some Ensure. We only talked for a few minutes before he told me he was going to take his medication and watch a movie, anticipating the sweet relief of sleep that would surely come. His last words to me were, “I love you. You take care of that baby!”
And that was it. Three weeks later, he was gone.
On December 27, 2008, my little boy was born. My thoughts went to my last conversation with my uncle, and I felt sad that he wasn’t going to be able to meet my amazing baby boy. Yet, I know he already knew him, and he loved him. They would have gotten along famously, had my uncle lived long enough to see what a cool kid my boy is becoming. My uncle loved little kids. I have many a happy memory of mischief instigated by my uncle, one such event involving a magnet and a tv that would never be the same after my uncle innocently…?…shared a story about what a magnet can do to the picture on a tv. I had to find out if he was right.
So it goes, though. One life ended, another was just beginning. Life is a short, fragile, uncertain thing. We don’t know how much time we have in this world, and all that is to be done is to make the most of the time we have. We are only given this one life, this one day, this one moment we are living right now. Everything can change in the blink of an eye, and all we thought we knew can be taken away just that quickly.
While we’re going through this life, I think one of the greatest gifts we can give to the world is simply leaving no pain in our wake as we go through our days. The world we live in can be cold. People can be selfish and pursue their dreams with a cruel disregard for what that pursuit may mean to other people. It seems that, more and more, we live in a world in which people care little for the happiness and well-being of others. There is still tremendous good in the world, and there are times when we get to see that good clearly demonstrated in acts of selflessness which remind us that we are all connected and we’re all in this together.
Yet, I see an increasing trend, particularly in the online community, of people using and abusing others in order to assuage their own loneliness and despair. I have been the victim of such acts, and I know several others who have also experienced it. Women are especially vulnerable, but we’re not the only victims. People use the distance and anonymity offered by a Twitter or Facebook or dating website account to inflict untold damage on the soul of another person through the creation of a ruse which convinces the victim they have found the love they have long sought after. Those who prey on the vulnerable know just what to say and when to say it to create a sense of security in the victim, while simultaneously creating just enough insecurity that the victim feels they “need” the other person in order to function. When we see these relationships play out in the real world, it’s easy to recognize it as unhealthy and something which needs to come to an end. In the world of the internet community, these relationships play out with far more privacy, as most of the exchanges that would reveal the nature of the relationship happen in private emails or chats. No one knows what’s happening to the victim, only that there is something terribly wrong. The person victimizing them is leaving tremendous pain in their wake, and they have little or no concern for it. The victim serves a purpose for the perpetrator, even if the only purpose is to make the perpetrator feel a little less alone in the world. When everything ultimately falls apart, the perp just moves on to someone else, while the victim is left to sort things out and put the pieces back together.
To those who have never been involved in a relationship that begins online, it’s easy to say, “Well, starting a relationship online is just desperate, and you’re kinda asking for the pain.” There are myriad reasons why a person may go about a relationship this way. Maybe it’s difficult to meet people where they are. Maybe they’re shy and it’s easier to get to know someone online first. Maybe they have tried every other way to meet people and it’s not worked, so they’re giving the internet community a try. There are any number of reasons why a person may choose to pursue something online, and none of those reasons warrant being victimized.
As I see these situations play out, I have to wonder about the people who hurt others like this. I have to wonder at the level of pain they are inflicting on others, and how it is that they have no concern whatsoever for deep wounds they are leaving on their victims. LIfe is short. LIfe is uncertain. All any of us want is to love and be loved, and if we have that in life, then it makes all other things in life seems sweeter. For a person to take that basic human need and use it as a means to inflict pain is really something I can’t wrap my mind around. Yet, it happens all the time, more and more. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. There have been episodes of “Dateline” and “20/20″ covering the topic.
For all the activity on the many social networks out there, it seems that we are becoming increasingly disconnected from our humanity. Collectively, we are becoming automatons, clicking and tweeting and status-updating away the things that make us human and vulnerable, adopting something similar to sentient software through which we can live out an entire existence without the messiness that comes from being fully human. I think social networks offer amazing opportunities for meeting people, particularly for weirdos like me who have trouble meeting like-minded people in the real world. Yet, there seems to be a growing trend toward disregard for the soul of the people we are talking to, and it can and does cost people their lives.
I don’t know what the solution is. I only know we would all do well to remember that life is but a vapor, and we are responsible for the pain or the joy we leave behind when we leave such things behind intentionally. There are few of us in the world who live such a bifurcated existence that we are unaware of how our actions impact others. We are human, we are connected, and there is even some scientific evidence which suggests that seeing another person in pain causes us to mirror their pain. We are wired to be compassionate and feel empathy. There aren’t many of us who even know how to begin to live otherwise, so those who victimize others, be it online or in the real world, are not unaware of the pain they are causing. Rather, it seems they just don’t care, and that lack of concern is as dangerous as it is damaging.
All I can say is this…Karma.
In other news…
Perhaps you’ve heard that there is a groundswell of rage against the poor for being poor. I think Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor…but they need to get off their asses and quit their complaining.” At least, to hear the way some talk in this climate of disgust with the poor, you would think that’s what Jesus said. What is of greatest concern to me is that the political sects which so closely identify themselves with the Bible and Jesus are the ones most vocal about the plight of the poor being their own fault, as though every tool is available to the poor to change their circumstances, but the poor are having so much fun being poor that they choose to stay that way.
I hear a lot about government entitlements and the Utopia such entitlements offer to those who use them. Let me break it down for you in simple terms…government “entitlements” help and hurt at the same time, and no one is better off for having to use them for the long term. Yet, the situation is such that the longer a person uses them, the harder it becomes to get off of them. The system is deeply flawed and is designed to create dependence. For example, a person whose family is using food stamps or Medicaid, both of which provide essential things for the family, could lose those benefits if they get a job that pays only a few dollars more per week. That’s not to say that the increase in pay makes them better able to afford food and health insurance, but it is enough that the government has determined they are no longer eligible for the assistance they need. Families are then faced with children who may have to go hungry, or, if they can eat, they are fed affordable processed foods that merely fill the belly without providing any nutritional value. This becomes a greater problem when health issues arise and they can’t get medical help because they were told they no longer qualified for Medicaid.
This notion that people living in poverty somehow enjoy their poverty so much that they choose to do nothing about it absurd. Most people I know who live at or below the poverty line, myself included, would love to live a wholly different life if they could. There is no pride that comes from knowing that you are one act of congress away from having no paycheck or food budget or health care. There is nothing comforting in knowing there is money in the bank when you know that money comes from a government that gives with one hand and takes with the other, and the decisions about your future are being made by people who refer to use as a “moocher.” Many people living in poverty are working damn hard to improve their lives, living on a hamster wheel of working harder and harder to get absolutely nowhere. They are running to stand still. Anyone who believes for a moment that this is something they willfully choose for themselves is living in a delusion, and that delusion is being fed by people who I find incredibly ignorant and cold. I’m looking at you, Fox News pundits.
There are many stories we can point to of people who pulled themselves out of poverty and went on to tremendous success. Those stories are inspiring, and they can provide hope when all else seems bleak. Yet, for most people, the opportunities and connections simply do not exist that would allow them to pull themselves out of an impoverished life and go on to great financial and personal success. For me, I have yet to discover any remarkable talent or skill I have to offer the world that would allow me to market myself in such away as to ensure some level of success. I don’t sing or dance. I’m not an artist. I am not an actress. I’m not incredibly gorgeous. I write. I am in the process of writing a bestselling book, but until that book is written, published, and sold, what am I to do? What are any of us stuck in this cycle to do, particularly in a world that is growing ever more hostile and impatient with us for daring to be poor?
I think there is something to be said for the need to redefine success and reprioritize the American dream. The American dream was built on debt, and we have all become serfs. Every dollar we spend comes with debt built into it, so none of us are immune. Yet, even with all that’s happened in the last several years, we still see commercials and hear propaganda encouraging to have and to spend and to finance what we can’t afford and that if we could just find a way to have it ALL, we could be happy. Is it any wonder that the United States in the world leader in psychiatric problems and the use of psychopharmaceuticals? We are told day in and day out that we need to have this and earn that much and drive this and wear that in order to be fulfilled. How wrong we have been.
Yet, there exists real poverty in America that has nothing to do with the inability to afford an iPad AND an iPhone. There really are families who cannot afford to feed their children food that is going to give them what they need to grow into healthy adults. There really are families that live with the constant threat of eviction hanging over their heads because they scarcely make enough to pay for the hovel in which they are living. The disparity between the rich and the poor is becoming more glaring. Banks which have forced our country into near bankruptcy and corporations which make billions in profit but don’t pay their employees a livable wage are lauded as nearly heroic for their business savvy, meanwhile those they crush under the wheels of corporate progress are left to wonder where they will get money for bread and milk this week.
In a world of plenty, it is a shame that so many go without. America likes to think of itself as a great world power, an example to be followed, yet the way we as a nation perceive and treat our most vulnerable citizens tells the true story. To look to the poor and tell them to take a vacation, sing a song, and stop complaining is beyond callous. The corporations that are lauded as the job creators are the same corporations who will only hire people part time in order to avoid paying for benefits, and provide only a miniscule paycheck that is more of a joke than an income. When corporations are generating multiple billions in profits and bankers who should be jailed are told they’re too big to fail, that so many people are living at or below the poverty line is a travesty.
While poverty in America certainly seems like tremendous wealth when compared with poverty in other parts of the world, those living in poverty here have to operate within this economy. Poverty in America is real, it is damaging, and its impact is far-reaching, well beyond being able to afford groceries and health care. The problems we don’t fix now will be inherited by our children. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world in which every person who wanted to get out of poverty could find the way to do it, and all would be well. We don’t live in that world, though. Until we do, we need to find a way to address poverty with measures that not only fix the immediate problems but also create solutions that reach well into the future.
Thankfully, there are community-based movements addressing this, and those in poverty are being heard by people who care about what we have to say. Being in poverty does not mean being stupid and having nothing to offer to your community, and it is refreshing to see that there are people in our communities who recognize this, who want to find what is best and brightest about each person stuck in this cycle of poverty, and use those skills and gifts to help create a way out. It’s a long process, though, and it is not helped when those who are in the positions of power continue to see the impoverished as a burden they shouldn’t have to deal with.
We can do better.
However, in the meantime, please enjoy this illustration of how people do their worst to the poor, this time coming to you from McDonalds. I’m not lovin’ it. They can suck it, as far as I’m concerned.