Recently, I’ve been having a crazy mix of feelings. Part of me feels tremendously grateful and emotional for not suffering so much through my insomnia and insane levels of anxiety. But the other part also feels like it only mastered dulling the pain momentarily, but the anguish still seeps through incrementally. “Without suffering, there would be no compassion.” It’s hard for people from their privileged perch to look down and view the rest of everyone else as a part of their world, because they have the option to not interact and treat others as another realm, separated by an invisible wall of glass that divides the experiences of all of us. They can’t relate, and can go on living their lives in the smaller everyday problems, those we recognize as First World problems.
Maybe it should be mandatory for everyone to go through a serious phase of poverty and illness to truly be able to spread the compassion and mutual understanding that often bonds us to each other. We are connected in the most delicate threads of wispy webs or silk, ones that make us love, feel pain and empathy for each other, makes us more resilient than we could ever realize.
On my trip to Europe, I was in a bad place, and it was hard to ignore, and I felt deeply all the suffering that I saw. Here I was with my own horde of health issues, yet when I walked down the streets of Sorrento or Naples, there I stood in front of two women with their children in the streets, their life haunted in their eyes, one of them with their nose cut off; I felt my touristy privilege hit me and them in the face. There a million tourists who flaunt off their wealth with Gucci perfume, Prada purses, and Ray Ban sunglasses strut by everyday without batting an eye, protected by that invisible wall, or maybe their own hardships had hardened them against what their eyes saw, but didn’t perceive anymore. Throughout the trip, I spared a dollar or two here and there, but when I returned and told my friends, they warned me that the money might have been collected by gangs instead, and possibly endangered the women and children’s health further. That point worried me. The conversation reminded me of a scene from Whiskey Tango Foxtrot where Tina Fey’s character tries to stop Martin Freeman’s from giving money to a child, “Stop! It’s a scam.” “So what, they’re still in the streets begging, aren’t they?”
I thought, how could one end up in such a life where cutting off the vulnerables’ noses be the only way you made a living? Then I thought, like everyone else who turned a blind eye, once the wall was up, it couldn’t be that difficult once such things transformed into a norm in one’s mind. Maybe even judging what was immoral was immoral of me: after all, I had the privilege of never having been put in that position or had to make that kind of choice.
Lately, everything on the news seemed to weigh heavily on my mind, not only made me sad, but actually flooded in and settled like a toxin, and I felt like I had to stem the flow by blocking out some of it by setting up a wall, otherwise it would be too much to handle. I felt some days like my mind was being eaten alive, consumed by all of it. Being depressed never solves anything though, I thought. Nobody likes depressed, pessimistic people. You have to fix your own problems and stand on your own two feet before you can start making a real difference in the bigger picture.
I roamed the aisles of Barnes and Noble one day, and opened the first page to the life of Hyeonseo Lee, and got pulled immediately into her story. It’s called “The Girl with Seven Names.” There were no words for the tremendous respect I felt reading through everything she endured, and how happy I felt to know she made it safely from North to South Korea, even if it took a decade. After all that she experienced, losing her father, almost being raped, almost being deported, almost being sold into prostitution, being betrayed and hospitalized by strangers, she made it. And the part of her that was close to giving up, was shown how kind humanity can be at the most random moments, when Dick Stolp, an Australian backpacker, a stranger to her, decided to hand her money to buy her family’s freedom. For no other reason than to help. He could’ve decided to conform to the general conventional realistic, or pessimistic belief that she was trying to cheat him with a sad story, but he didn’t. He chose to have faith despite the million reasons why one wouldn’t do it. And when you think about it, is the cost of 5 human lives worth $1000? More than that. And yet, most of us wouldn’t do it. Maybe we look at a life that is smeared in dirt, trembling at our feet in rags, and we get to decide that that life isn’t worth giving a hand to. Why?
It would’ve completely broke me if I were to give all that money, to find out that they didn’t even make it to safety. And that might’ve been enough to prevent me from giving out that money, which is so selfish. We’d rather not have to cross that wall, or momentarily dip into the contaminated water of someone else’s life if possible.
And that brings me to my next point. There is no doubt humans are complex, most of us have bad and good sides. And yet, I can think of a handful of people I know who truly, absolutely do not judge people by their appearances, financial status, or other things that so closely wrap around our everyday perceptions, yet are so superficial. And I feel so proud to know these people. There are 100% moral people in the world who are overfilling to the brim with kindness and goodness. Often, they are taken advantage of by other people, but it doesn’t diminish their spirit because it would be so hard to take that away from them; it’s a part of them. And that makes me have faith that these kinds of people still exist.