I didn’t go to kindergarten, but I went to three different first grades due to family moves. I think this was, in part, why I was so shy the first twenty-one years of my life.
I have only two memories of first grade. One: Vegetable soup with rolls every day for lunch. Two: Crying almost every day because some children in my Maryland public school did not have shoes. I know that sounds incongruous. How could they not have shoes? But it is a clear image that my mother confirmed numerous times. I came home crying. I wanted those children to have shoes and it ripped my heart out in 1948 that they didn’t. Was this really true? Perhaps they had worn-out shoes; something must have been covering their feet. But no. Clearly my memory is of no shoes.
Since childhood I’ve wanted everyone to have shoes. The ache-in-my-stomach that started long ago is still present for so many. I give to UNICEF to help the unclothed and starving children of the world. To save mistreated dogs and cats I turn to ASPCA, PETA, and more. For elephants–so smart, loving, and extraordinary–and other wildlife I give to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. And recently to help Ukraine I’ve given to the World Central Kitchen and the International Rescue Committee.
But this is not enough. A mere drop in the bucket.
Daily watching a freedom-loving European nation be blown to bits by one delusional autocrat is more wrenching than children without shoes. Daily Ukraine asks for our help; so we give aid the easy American way: we throw them money. But we do not give them the super-powerful weaponry, the no-fly zone, and civilian escape routes desperately needed–nor do we get rid of Putin though we let him kill hundreds of women and babies every hour. Apparently, we don’t dare risk our own comfort and safety. American care for others goes only so far as is convenient, as long as it looks good. Few of us live the words of John 15: 13: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
We saw a Netflix film last night, Entre Nos, released in 2009 that stirs the same sort of feeling that children without shoes and desecrated democracies arouses. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Not an easy film, award-winning, poignantly authentic, it is a true story. Likely there will be many stories about Ukraine when the dust of war settles and we can reflect on what we might have done better.
But what can we do now? Should we turn off the TV? Get off the internet? Avoid upsetting news? Push away difficult memories? Buy shoes for those who don’t have any?
Not necessarily. But we do need to participate--mentally, physically, actively, listening for every tidbit we can do. Every one of us. Things don’t get better by ignoring them, pretending they aren’t happening or aren’t our concern.
I seem to always be asking: What can I DO about it? Whatever the “it” might be. It is a troubling world, but we live in it. And because we’re here, we have to DO something. We have to be involved. Even if our income has dwindled under Covid, we are compelled to give to rescue operations, animal rights causes, environmental organizations, gun legislation, and more. But money is easy. Change is hard. We need to write our Congressmen, even our President, taking all the avenues government allows, futile though they often seem.
When we’ve done all we know to do humanly, we pray. It seems every problem always comes back to that. The last resort. But shouldn’t it be our first? We pray because we love good and wish for it to beat out the world’s evil. We pray because–even when it doesn’t look like it– we know there is a good God who loves us all, who made us all in his image and likeness (Genesis1: 27), our refuge and fortress (Psalms 91:2), God who saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31). Whatever isn’t good, He didn’t make and we don’t have to accept as true.
I woke this morning to read: “Look unto me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45: 22). Why should I believe this? Why should I believe in the allness of God? Because there is an authenticity to the Word, to biblical teachings that have guided mankind throughout time. Old and New Testament wisdom can be applied to life’s hard things when nothing else can. So we can be busy learning. Busy applying. Busy putting spiritual “shoes” on our feet to walk the hard path.
Artwork: The Path, watercolor, 14″ x 12″, $375. A rocky, uneasy trail in Ireland that I walked and painted several years ago. It would have been hard to walk without shoes.