Tonight I watched a documentary on CNN telling the story of an orphanage and chronicling the lives of two of the children who lived there. It was a powerful story. At one point my friends and I noticed that the news correspondent was shaking and crying because of the suffering she was observing. She walked out of the walls of the orphanage and said something like, ‘there’s so much sadness.”
It was obvious that it was too much to take in all at once. As she cried, I too cried. My heart ached for those suffering.
The scene was heavy, sad and powerful. The correspondent obviously shaken by the events unfolding before her and the suffering of the children whose story she was telling. The story was very real. Through the footage and personal accounts I felt as though I was able to get a small glimpse into what life was like following the horrific devastation brought on by the earthquake. My friends and I were deeply engaged in the pain and reality of the story when, BAM!
“When your child’s skin is uncomfortable use this detergent and it will keep every outfit as clean and fresh as possible.” A bright, colorful and cheerful commercial for laundry detergent.
It was shocking.
The images on the TV were so completely opposite. One second we were saddened, enthralled and captivated by the story of suffering children. Images of children who owned no clothes or only one set filled the screen. Then the switch, a young girl in a sunny backyard with loving parents who needed to switch laundry detergents so that she wouldn’t chance being uncomfortable.
The reality of the suffering was sinking in as we were ripped out of that story and placed back in the story of comfort and safety. I wondered how many people noticed. I wondered if anyone else thought maybe there was something a little askew, when in one story children are dying for lack of food, clothing, schooling and adequate housing and in the very same moment there is another child who may have an outfit that has faded color or could potentially make the child itch.
I remember feeling the same thing after I watched Slumdog Millionaire. Here I was in a comfortable chair, having paid $10.00 for my ticket and about $10.00 more popcorn and a soda, and luxuriously watched the story of children living in garbage dumps in India. I sat shifting in my seat for most of the movie, slightly feeling as though I wanted to wash my hands of the experience.
The reality is this duality exists every second of every day. We simply don’t think about the fact.
Every day many of us seek to be as comfortable as possible. Our desire is to not experience suffering of any kind and to make enough money to retire and “really start living” at an early age of 50 or so. All the while, there are vastly different stories being lived in our own cities and around the world. Stories of suffering and devastation. Stories where comfort is a dream and rarely a reality.
My initial response to the commercial was to be angry. The fact that such different stories could be told at the same time marveled me. Then I realized this is the tension in which we live, and every day we have the opportunity to speak into either or both stories.
You and I have a role to play. With every story of suffering we encounter, we also receive an invitation to act. If we did so, maybe then there would be less stories of suffering to tell.
How do you deal with the duality of suffering and the life many of us live?
What other paradoxes do you find as you engage suffering and commercialism?