The Chill of Indifference, the Warmth of Embrace

A corner spot on my terrace gets so much sun that this past summer, the chaise that lives there went unused. Only a rattlesnake or a person in search of a sauna could bear the intensity of the heat. But even in the mild year-round weather of Southern California, seasons do exist; on this late November morning, that very same chaise provides a cozy spot to be kissed by the sun in a warm and impassioned embrace.

Lying in this life-giving love, my thoughts drift back to an evening on the Paris metro. The car was packed with somber people in winter gear, all robed in shades of gray, black and brown. One man stood, cup in hand, and started speaking loudly. Urgently. Not understanding the language but getting the intensity of his cry, I asked my husband for a translation. 

"He's homeless."

As this shouting man waded down the aisle, no one looked up; he passed through the swaying car as if he were a ghost who could not get the attention so desperately needed to move into a happier realm.

I sat there horrified, yet as a foreigner insecure with the milieu, did nothing. So I imaged a scenario from an alternate universe. What if every single person on that metro car decided to act en masse and collaborate on how to help this soul? How much change could they spare? Did they know of a shelter for him? Was anyone a doctor? Was there a program to rehabilitate his life? How could a spot packed with so many human beings all ignore the cries of this man as he moved among them, treated as a piece of refuse, a societal leftover?

In relating this event the next day to a friend who makes films in Africa, he lifted his pointing finger, held high near my face, and said, "People think that Africa is poor but many things are better. In the villages there are no homeless. And even a crazy person is allowed to wander and no one drives him away. They understand and everyone takes care of him." 

In a small rural village, those who fall under the spell of hopelessness and poverty may very well be helped by their neighbors, whose families have lived side by side for a few generations. Cities tend not to foster this closeness, but in reality we are all part of a village -- just a bigger one. And so a broader consciousness must be nurtured so that even if one doesn't "know" the homeless one, he or she is "seen."

In reality, we now live in a global village. The sooner world awareness is elevated to the point of understanding that we are on this Mothership together, the happier we will be. And then the chill of indifference will transform into an embrace of nurturance.

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