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Grappling With Disparity

Grappling With Disparity

A few days ago the faces of starving – dying — children in Somalia flashed across my TV screen.  Some had flies landing on their faces that they didn’t have the strength to wipe away.  Others had huge tears rolling down their cheeks as they looked directly into the camera.  A few were lifelessly lying in their mothers’ arms, their abdomens rather than their chests rising with each precious breath, a sign that death was gaining ground.

From where I sat, I could look directly into my kitchen.  I didn’t have to open the doors to picture how well stocked it was:  cottage cheese, Mountain Dew, tomatoes, leftovers from O’Charley’s, a loaf of partially eaten bread, and much more I’m ashamed to talk about.  The thought made me sick to my stomach.

This year my second grandchild was born.  His name is Austin, but we call him Bubby.  I don’t know why we call him that; it’s just a term of endearment.  We also call him angel.  And handsome man.  We kiss him non-stop.  We pick him up the second he cries.  His mother is always checking that his diaper is dry and his formula fresh.  Wonderful friends from work have donated little boys’ clothes, so many that I don’t think we’ll need to shop for him until he turns seven.  And I started to cry.

I don’t understand life sometimes.  I can’t rationalize why I have so much and others have so little.  I can’t explain why I have never gone hungry and why children in my family risk being spoiled, while babies in Somalia are literally dying for some water and their parents walk 30 nights through the dessert in hopes of saving at least one of their dwindling brood.  It doesn’t make sense.

What affected me the most, I suppose, was my inability to do a darn thing about it.  I felt totally and utterly helpless.  Sure, I wrote down the website for donations and sent what I could collect from my wallet.  But what can a few dollars do?  If I emptied my refrigerator, would it make a difference?  Should I feel guilty that Bubby rests comfortably in the arms of his mother tonight?  And will I forget those disturbing images the moment I step back into the classroom, getting caught up in the all-consuming preparations for a new school year?  I pray that I don’t.

There are many things in life I cannot control.  But there are many things I can:  like remembering every day how blessed I am.  Like putting things in perspective, reminding myself that my grandchildren are not dying of starvation when I sigh over the paper load I’m carting to my car in the evening.  Like looking into the faces of each new student who will soon tromp into my classroom — some with shy smiles, some sulking, some expressionless – and reminding myself that their lives are not always easy either.  They’re not in a famine, but they might have gone without breakfast.  Their parents haven’t traveled through a dessert, but they might not see them much because they work a double shift.  And maybe, just maybe, they’re angry because at their young age, they’ve already discovered life isn’t fair.

I can’t touch in any personal way those precious children in Somalia.  But I can make a difference in the lives of young people here.  Shame on me, if I don’t do that.

By Cheryl Adams

Princeton High School, English Teacher

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2 comments on “Grappling With Disparity

  1. Lizzy del Campo Hartman
    August 16, 2011

    Amazing post Cheryl,
    Interesting how we take things for granted sometimes without really meaning to. It takes story of extreme sadness and devastation to get us to reflect on how fortunate we are.

    Last year, my students studied HIV as we worked through our unit on Viruses. At the end of the unit I brought in a guest speaker from a local AIDS family support center to share her story with the kids. It was the most moving experience of my life and I would argue it had a similar impact on my students. I have never heard students of Princeton High School so quiet or seen them so engaged. They listened to her tragic story and when they left the classroom they ALL said thank you, gave her a hug, or told her she was an inspiration. The next day the students seemed to just act different. They were less “whiny,” more focused, and just overall and happier group of kids. Upon reflection and talking with some of the kids I understood that hearing our guest speakers story not only educated them about the precautions they must take to protect themselves from STDs, but also made them appreciate what they have in life and, may I dare say it, strive for their goals in life. The realized they are important, they matter, they can truly be whatever they want to be. They may face difficult obstacles in their life, but they were healthy and had a full life ahead of them.

    Now, I am not saying it was a miracle cure and that all of my students will be perfect angels in class next year. However, I bet if you ask them about their guest speaker they will likely give you a passionate response, share her tragic story, and perhaps discuss how fortunate they are.

  2. Lori Fornaro
    August 16, 2011

    This is an amazing read, Cheryl. Thank you

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