I could go all my life without ever considering the textures of another human life whose heart beats just around the corner from where I live. Let alone a person, or a people, half a world away.
I’m aware I need to re-do my toenail polish, that I forgot to start the dryer, that I should vacuum the living room rug. I know I feel hungry, when it hasn’t been that long since breakfast, but there’s a craving, maybe to distract myself from boredom or a nagging emotion I’d rather not have, by noshing on something. What do I want? Something salty maybe….
I am not aware, on the other hand, except in rare, brief moments, if ever at all, of that specific, particular fear in the belly of a child in central Phoenix, homeless with his mother, who slept fitfully next to her, in an alleyway on a piece of cardboard, his hand on her shoulder to reassure himself she’s still there, that she hasn’t left him alone to look for her dealer, even though she said she was never going to do that again, until he jumps awake at the snuffling of a stray mongrel. Now, even though it’s still dark, he obsesses about making sure to be on time for school, where there will be breakfast, even if the kids look at him funny because he smells bad.
I am aware of cat hair between the keys of my keyboard, of dishes in the sink, of the questionable color combination of my sports bra and yoga pants with this particular tank top, of feeling discouraged and deprived at how slowly the weight is coming off.
I am not aware of the how infectious is the laugh, when she isn’t so consumed with sadness, of a twenty-three-year-old woman with two little ones in a refugee camp on the other side of the world, and how attached she was to her mother, who did not escape the dangers the young woman has fled with her husband whose single dimple and shining eyes still make her heart surge, and with her brother who is the cleverest in the family, but they had to leave their older sister behind, because she wasn’t strong, and wasn’t quite right in her head since she was hurt so badly, and it would have been more dangerous for the children, although they loved her so, and what will she do now because it isn’t safe there? I’m not aware of the stories her Papa told her as a little girl, that she carries in her heart.
I don’t know why they had to leave. What makes that set of people hate this set of people? What happened to the wild, favorite cousin, who always won at street games, or the best friend who shared her secrets at the age of ten, or the cranky old woman next door who complained about the noise of their giggling? The teacher who crinkled her eyes when she smiled? Did they get out? What sweetness was left behind in the mattresses and the cooking pots they could not bring along on their backs? What memories did she carry into that strange place they have found at last to rest after walking so far, and what was too terrible to remember, but had to be hidden away in the recesses of her mind, only to spring out in nightmares that make her gasp awake, staring, with tears rolling across the bridge of her nose and puddling silently on the palm cupped beneath her face?
I haven’t paid attention to what is happening to those people, wherever they are. What fills my awareness are all the consuming details of my own narrow life. It’s about what I want, what I’m afraid to hope for, what I tell myself I shouldn’t try, all the things I judge or obsess about. But I don’t need to question if the front door will lock, or if the air conditioning will kick on to keep me comfortable. There is food in the freezer and the pantry. I have a fourteen-year-old car that never fails to start, or get me where I want to go, and I have the money to put gas in it, and I can get it fixed if it breaks. I don’t have much of an investment portfolio, but I have running water, toilets that flush, in a home that nobody will drag me out of.
Those other lives are out of sight, out of mind, for me. For them, some privileges that I call rights cannot be imagined, must not be wished for, and will never be expected because to think of those things only brings on hopelessness, and distracts the attention necessary to find something for the babies to eat today.
But I don’t think about that.