A century and a half ago – from a continent away – Dickens wrote:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
The penultimate irony is that in a culture that celebrates “progress”, the only real change is that it’s now better than ever and it’s also worse than ever.
Only today a child was born and another child was killed. Today a father bounced his giggling daughter on his knee, a mother was beaten by her drunken husband while the children hid under the bed trembling and crying. Today a man sat on his balcony sipping champagne and eating caviar, another man rummaged through a garbage can looking for discarded French fries or stale bread to soothe his aching stomach. Today a young lady danced with her father celebrating her marriage to the man of her dreams, another girl was raped and beaten and sits alone in her room, crying and hurting, afraid to tell anyone. Today a hero saved a life, another life was taken by a careless bullet or the brutal point of a knife. Today a noble man gave a gift of generosity to relieve the suffering of a disadvantaged family, another man came home to find his family dead and his home robbed of all his possessions. Today a family is preparing for holiday celebrations where there will be laughter, the opening of gifts, hot cocoa and cookies; another family is hiding under rocks trying to escape the devastation of bullets and bombs in a war-torn country. Today a man came home and kissed his wife and hugged his children, another man sits alone in a filthy nursing home, not having been visited by a friend or family member in over six months. Today a child was given a lavish birthday party with all her friends, enjoying cake and ice cream; another child died of malnutrition. Today a man received a life-saving heart surgery that gave him many more years with his children and grandchildren, meanwhile — unnoticed by most — a woman died prematurely because she was denied medical care due to lack of funding and insurance.
Walk down any street and on the same street corner you witness laughter and tears, compassion and hatred, generosity and greed, heroism and murder, wealth and poverty, sickness and health.
With all our wealth and prosperity – with all our technological progress – why has the United States of America not been able to make progress on the great social ills that plague our country? We can go to the moon, develop smart bombs and drones, the internet and smartphones, wireless technology, but we can’t make a dent in poverty, suffering and disease.
Even with a president who once urged us to “become a kinder, gentler nation” and was largely responsible for the creation of the “Points of Light” foundation, we’ve not made a dent. This foundation is still going strong today, by the way. In July of 2013 they celebrated their 5,000th daily point of light award – given to a couple in Iowa for founding a program that delivers free meals to hungry children. Points of Light is spread across 22 countries, and in 2012 boasted 4 million volunteers who contributed more than 30 million hours of service, and yet, it isn’t making a dent. I’m excited about these programs, and we need more of them, but volunteer service alone isn’t enough.
Murders, rapes, beatings, and robberies are all evil to be sure, but perhaps the greatest evil of all is when good men say we should do nothing to ease the suffering of our most desperate brothers and sisters. They say solving these problems should be left to the ministry of churches and volunteer non-profits. But if history teaches us anything, it has taught us that volunteer social work is at best sticking fingers in the holes of a dam that has already broken. Forget religion, faith, Christianity, morality, and the like – how can a good man who has a freezer and a refrigerator full of food, 2 cars in the driveway, 4 TVs in the house and two of them high-definition, still consider himself a good man if he refuses to be willing to pitch in a few extra bucks so a hungry person can get a loaf of bread, or a sick person get medical care?
Yes, it’s better than ever and it’s worse than ever. It’s better because our nation has been blessed with great prosperity and abundant resources, but it’s worse than ever because those with resources hoard them, while crime, poverty and sickness continues to rise in our country.
I know now why others refer to “the human race” – it is an apparent race between the good humans and the evil humans. It’s getting harder and harder to tell them apart, but it doesn’t appear that the good humans have gained any ground in the last 150 years. Perhaps there is still hope against all hope for the future. One would like to think educated and civilized humans could rise above their animal instincts, their greed, and their willingness to trample upon and pillage their neighbors to acquire their wealth; that we could rise to civility, nobility, generosity, and above all, honor. I’m an eternal optimist. I continue to hope void of any evidence or reason for hope. Hope is all we have – and many of the suffering only wish for a single flicker of hope. It is for them, most of all, I continue to hold out hope.
And yet, while I hope, I know that tomorrow another bomb will drop.
Source for Points of Light foundation data: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Points_of_Light