There is a sentence I heard some years ago and that I consider deeply true: “How can you be alive and happy if not everybody can be?”. The author is uncertain: some say “Che” Guevara, some say someone else before him, but that’s not so important.
I often happen to think about this question: I work close to the Central Station of Milan and each time I walk to go to work it’s impossible to me not to remember it when I meet hundreds of beggars and homeless on my way.
I am so tired to meet poverty at every corner, wherever I go. It is banal to say it is sad to see these people having nothing, spending their life in misery, finding warmth and refuge in cheap wine or something else. Perhaps a little less banal is to say that it is not just sad. Let’s say it openly: it is deeply unfair in the moment in which too many have too much and far too many have nothing. But this is not what I am going to speak about: though I am deeply convinced that such an affirmation is rooted in Christianity and, I would say, in the message of any religion, I perfectly understand It can easily be misunderstood and considered politically oriented and clearly sided.
What I’d like to speak about is our reaction in front of them. Generally speaking, I have always noticed three different possible reactions when people meet poverty: disgust, indifference or piety. Well, honestly speaking I dislike all of them.
Disgust is the most horrible of the three: who are you to judge? Who are you to be disgusted by a human being? How can you be so superficial not to feel the pain from which his/her dirt, his/her stink, his/her condition come from? How many times we have heard the sentence “they deserve this: if they don’t work it’s right that they live in this way!”? When I hear such things I am deeply disgusted too, not by the beggars and homeless but by the ones pronouncing them! Do they think to be God? To have the possibility to know everything? Or are they simply too selfish and stupid not to consider the infinite variables in a man’s life? Are they so strong to consider weakness a guilt? Are they so blind not to see everything can happen to everybody in any moment? I suppose this behavior wouldn’t need any comment but I want to add just a little example for the ones thinking they will never be in such a condition. Quite close to my home there is a nice but BMW parked in the courtyard of a post-office. I noticed it as it has got newspapers on the windows and the think looked strange to me. Then, one day, while I was passing in front of the car, a quite old man came out from it: he was clean and wore a very old “Missoni jumper” but peeping inside of the car through the open door, to my surprise, I noticed he was living there, in the sense that the car was his home. What had happened to that man? He had a nice car an expensive jumper, but these things were just too old memories of a past which existed no more: perhaps, one day, he had also thought “It will never happen to me…”
Indifference could somehow be natural, a sort of self-defense in front of the growing and growing poverty we are all surrounded by: we feel uncomfortable, we don’t know what to do, we pretend we don’t see… But, simply, each time we turn our head not to feel annoyed by what we see, we are guilty even if we don’t know: we are guilty of forgetting that we are in front of a human being and his/her dignity, we are in front of our brother, we are guilty of forgetting that he is God. Theory? Probably… So let’s go to the practice: we are guilty of making his/her situation even worse, of denying even a sight of consideration to a person, of making this person invisible, alone, in the coldness of solitude. Let’s think about this next time we feel the need to pretend the homeless we meet doesn’t exist or next time we just turn to the friend sitting beside us in the tube and, rising our eyes, state: “These gypsies are so many…”, as if gypsies didn’t eat or had sons to feed.
Finally, we come to piety. Well, many can think piety is, in the end, a good feeling, something moving us to tip the beggar, to give money for a mission in Africa … That’s true! The result can be good but let’s pay attention not to confuse piety to compassion: piety is repulsive, is the engine moving us to give something to turn “the problem” away, to discharge our souls from a momentary weight, while compassion is exactly, even semanticly, the opposite, it is inclusive, it is the mechanism that moves us to feel what the other feels, to suffer as the other suffers, to understand that every human being is the mirror of any other human being and that to lend a helping hand to someone in need means to help ourselves as first thing as we are part of humanity and really we can’t be totally happy (and a loving God wants us to be happy) if we are surrounded by brothers and sisters suffering. Only this feeling will really move us forward, towards the further step, towards something more than tipping the poor or sending 10 pounds to Africa, to realize that poverty is, in any form, an enemy to fight actively around us, wherever we are, not just to remove for a minute or a second.
This is the point: don’t turn your head, don’t run away, look for poverty around you and fight against it with all your strength, getting engaged in all the ways you can, because poverty is not “their enemy”, it is “your enemy”: don’t give only your money to fight it, give your time and mainly give your love, here, now. Sometimes even a loving sight or a word counts so much, and even more when it’s harder for us to offer it. We don’t need to become all a new Mother Therese, but simply to remember that, as she said, even a single drop helps in creating an ocean and a drop of love, of real love and compassionate participation, perhaps can help to build a better situation.
It’s not just a sentimental sentence: love, real love, free love with no borders of any kind means to give a hope to someone and to ourselves too and only hope will save us all.