Sunday, January 20, 2008

The ants go marching~

You know that awful feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see something sad? For me it feels like tiny ants crawling in circles, a faint but decidedly unpleasant swirl of emotion trapped inside.

I feel it when I see injured or abused animals. A bird with a broken wing flapping on the roadside, an abandoned nest of baby rabbits, and a skunk trapped in netting. Even the struggling mouse my cat proudly brings home in her mouth makes the ants crawl.

The pictures MSPCA posts regularly in the newspaper accompanied by sorrowful stories of lonely abandoned animals give me the feeling. The sad, but hopeful, eyes looking into the camera beg, "Come love me. Take me home." It crushes me.

I distract myself. I move on. The ants go to sleep. I don't forget, exactly. I just don't try to remember.

Yesterday we drove through Boston on our way to one of David's basketball games. Like all cities, Boston has its homeless, its wounded, its "invisible" people. Each has his territory; real estate is precious along heavily trafficked roads where cars line up at red lights.

Some sell flowers, some wash windshields, some carry a can from car to car hoping for change. And yesterday as we sat in the long line waiting for the green light, a man with both legs bound in braces limped between the lanes of cars. His cardboard sign-- neatly printed, all words spelled correctly-- said "I need money for knee replacements. I'm embarrassed, but there is nothing else I can do."

The ants crawled.

The man looked neither left nor right, no hope in his eyes. No one rolled down a car window; no one offered a fistful of change. We didn't either.

I said to Bruce, "I feel so bad for him, but for sure he won't put any money he gets toward a knee replacement."

He'll buy wine or street drugs with his daily take. If I offered to drive him to an orthopedist and pay for the operation, he'd have looked at me like I was crazy. He'd rather have a dollar.

"How do you even know he needs a knee replacement?" Bruce asked.

"I know, but it's still so sad that he's reduced to this."

"Reduced to what?" said Bruce. "He could get a job." Getting a job is Bruce's cure for the homeless. I think this hard practicality is how he keeps his ants from crawling.

But it isn't this simple. There are no jobs for the mentally ill, the drug addicted, except to panhandle for a daily wage.

And it makes me feel that awful sensation in the pit of my stomach when I see such helpless suffering when there is nothing I can do.

Is there?

“It is not necessary to advertise food to hungry people, fuel to cold people, or houses to the homeless.”~John Kenneth Galbraith


Eileen said...

What I like about what you wrote is that it acknowleges being stuck with caring and not burying your response because you are helpless to fix it. The trouble with Bruce's response, to me , is that it fixes the hurt by diminishing it.Ants crawling is a vivid image of disquiet.I guess to love it all you have to take it all in, but being helpless in the face of suffering is pretty painful. Thanks . With Pauline's help I posted a new piece that your writing helped me to think about.

Ruth D~ said...

You are astute, Eileen, in your comments here. We all have our approaches to dealing with hurt. I'll come see what you wrote.

sc morgan said...

Oh, God. This is such a hard one. And I agree that the "ants crawling" is a great analogy, it's just that I probably fall on Bruce's side of the equation more often than not. Maybe it's all those years in the ER; maybe it's all the years here watching people at stoplights show off some made up "disability."

Once on a visit here my then thirty-year-old daughter-- who has spent a good amount of time in Latin America-- commented on a person who approached our pickup using two crutches with the spastic gait of someone with the most severe case of cerebral palsy imaginable. Meraiah said mater of factly, "I think I could do that."

Crass but true. There is a whole group of people who live in very nice houses here in San José who work the traffic lights every day from 9-5.

I have gotten to the point where I actually need to see amputated limbs before I reach for the change on the dash. No, I take that back. I ALWAYS give to old ladies who appear down and out. Who knows, it could be me but for a flick of luck. They made the hair on the back of my neck stand up!

Wanda said...

Oh how you struck a cord in my heart Ruth. I share such similar feelings. We do what we can through our church with the Missions and the Homeless...but it's never enough.

Since we are moving, I told my husband...all those jackets you don't need...lets give them to the homeless or the mission. How many jackets does one man need. We accumulate so much without giving it a thought.
Thank you Ruth for your sensitive and gentle spirit.

Tim Elhajj said...

It would suck to need two new knees and know that every dime you collected had to go toward feeding your head. I give change, if I have it. I know it doesn't help, but it probably doesn't make it any worse either.

Barbara said...

I can so identify with this. I feel that awful helpless feeling every time I pass a corner where someone is asking for money. I don't give them money, but my heart aches for their pain. They usually have that vacant stare that bespeaks hopelessness.

Lisa said...

I know that awful sensation well. I give money to people on the street sometimes. Then I come to the person a block away, who also seems desperate, and I have to just pass by. It just kills me. I wonder when I move to the city if I'll become numb to it? I don't know . . . I hope not. :(

I love that picture of your kitty, by the way.

Ruth D~ said...

Bottom line . . . no matter how we feel, or what we do, or don't do, there are some hurtin' people out there.

Josie said...

Ruth, you know, it amazes me that in such a wealthy country as the United States, and in Canada too, there is such abject poverty. It doesn't make any sense to me. Both of these countries have such huge wealth. Why do they let their own citizens - human beings - suffer so badly. And it's not just the grown ups, but childen too.

We had a case recently of a newborn baby, born to a homeless couple, and when it was released from the hospital, that newborn baby was homeless. It was taken by the ministry for children, but no one helped its parents. So now this poor homeless couple of separated from its baby, and they have no home. Just pile more suffering onto the suffering.

How did this happen?

Perdy said...

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