It is a time of economic difficulty around the world. Suddenly, the word "poverty" is not just something that belongs to someone else. It is close. Our friends are losing their jobs. Our household budgets are seeing revisions. Our charity checks are rethought. Our vacations are revised. Poverty is as close as a hungry beast: If it has not bitten us yet, still, its hot breath and digestive intentions are everywhere.
On the radio just now, I heard a woman in the midst of a discussion about the financial plight of California. People are tired, she said. They are worn out listening to radio and TV programs that dredge up yet another facet of the economic downturn, yet another sage analyst looking back at mistakes we might not have made ... as if explanations and news might somehow ease the fatigue, offer up answers, and put a smile back on our faces. People were worn out ... and sick of it ... and feeling, like it or not, "You cope with it. I've got my own problems."
Our generosities, however we may have imagined them, are under siege.
After the Chinese invasion of Tibet, a monk was asked what he most feared with the coming of the Chinese. "I was afraid," he replied, "that I might lose my compassion."
As if compassion were something that could be held, sustained, improved....
As if there were some shame that was attached to being less compassionate than in other times...a shame we too might feel tugging at our shirts in the face of a poverty that wears us down.
"You cope with it. I've got my own problems."
On the one hand, it feels callous and inhuman. But rather than feeling shame alone, rather than immersing ourselves in the things we cannot do or are too tired to do and yet wish, in part, we might be able to do ... this is a good time to really look at how we really feel about things. If we simply cannot do anything, what can we do? If we cannot escape what may feel demeaning, how can we escape?
How about what we can do?
How about what we do do?
If there is no willingness to examine such facts -- such real-time abilities and inabilities -- then I think we are truly leading impoverished lives.