Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A call to action

We live with fantasies so that the world feels more bearable. Before I had children, I thought that children who died mustn't have been loved, really loved, because otherwise no-one could bear the loss. I don't think I ever verbalised this, to myself, but that was the fantasy that made me able to deal with it.

Then I had a baby. And one day, as my daughter looked up at me and I was filled with love for her, I suddenly recognised the fantasy I had carried around. And I realised at the same time with a lurch that almost every child who died was loved, loved by family and friends, in that same heart-wrenching way that I loved her. I felt sick to my stomach, and I sobbed.

But even then, I think I retained a scrap of fantasy. At some deep level, I think I had an idea that with our low birth rate and low infant mortality rate, the deaths of our children impact us more. After all, we have less experience with death and aren't very good at accepting it. And how else can one even contemplate the thousands of children who die every day around the world from preventable causes? It's unthinkable otherwise.

But that is just a fantasy too - and so stupid that I am ashamed to admit it. Because even children who have been rejected by parents, orphaned at birth, discarded by society, and neglected by the wealthy; even children on the absolute margins of the poorest societies in the world; especially those children - they are all loved by God far more passionately than even the most loving of us could love our own children. And when they suffer and die, God weeps.

An acquaintance of ours lost his two sisters in the Victorian bushfires this week. Many, many others have died. And God weeps over them all, insonsolable. And every minute of every day, all around the world, brothers and sisters die from causes that we have the power to prevent, and God weeps inconsolably over them, too. The murderous bushfires this week are a tragedy. But the people who die every second because they have no access to clean water, adequate food, or simple medication represent a far greater ongoing tragedy.

When I look at my daughters, I have to discard the fantasies that make me rest easy. They are not safe just because they are loved. Love is not a magical amulet which wards off the evil eye of fire, flood, disease, drought, or any other cause of death. All around the world, children are loved as people hold them, stroke their brows, and watch them die. And it is agony to watch, every single time.

Looking at my daughters is not a matter of complacency, but a call to action. Thinking about home means thinking about other people's homes, too. And that means calling for secure walls, clean water, adequate food, medication and sanitation, and a reasonable livelihood for all. Because we are all asked to work together to form the household of God, in which there is enough to go around and everyone gets their share, until the day that we, too, are called to our final home. And until this new household is formed, God weeps.

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