Like a never ending cycle, the natural disasters continue to strike again and again with a sickening regularity. I had blogged about Tsunami, the Kosi floods, floods in Northern Karnataka, Kedarnath tragedy amongst a few on this blog and had shut myself off from several others.
I now vacillate between “let me contribute something” to “I just don’t care” to natural and man made disasters.
The Nepal Earthquake that occurred yesterday was too close to ignore. But unlike past disasters, the Govt of India, seems to have got it right with respect to the response both in terms of time and communication. Some of the central ministers were online posting updates on twitter and this was a huge departure from previous times when the Govt was slow to move and would do too little, too late.
About two weeks back, Prof Srikumar Rao‘ marketing mail had a great message on Service and while he wrote it in the context of the war in Yemen – where incidentally the Govt of India was very prompt in evacuating Indians and foreign nationals with alacrity – the message is a larger one, applicable to all of us, anytime we see natural or man made disasters occurring. The title of this post is also courtesy Prof Rao.
I read this in the New York Times last week and my throat tightened.
There are several thousand Indians in Yemen. Quite a few are women – mainly nurses working in hospitals and clinics.
An Indian Navy destroyer was sent to evacuate them. Since the port of Aden is subject to heavy shelling, the destroyer anchored outside while small boats ferried them aboard in groups of thirty or so. Many have not been able to make it out and are stranded.
Quite a few want to remain there despite the danger because of the heavy investment made by their families to get them there in the first place.
They are not dummies. They are bright and fully aware of the dangers. But their economic circumstances back home are so dire that remaining in an environment where they could be shot or blown up is not unthinkable.
Pause for a moment and think about this.
How far is this from YOUR circumstances? Can you even begin to imagine being in such a situation?
What is the lesson here for you?
One, for sure, is to feel immense gratitude for your good fortune.
But if you stopped there, it would be almost pornographic. Like rich tourists looking curiously at animals in a zoo.
These are human beings living in the same world as you and I. They are suffering. At least a part of this suffering is due to policies of countries that we belong to and call home. Possibly, even likely, the intent was honorable but the results were terrible.
So we are all complicit to some extent and we cannot turn away and pretend it does not exist.
So what else can YOU do?
Recognize that it is part of your role in life to alleviate suffering to the extent you can. You cannot do it all and you cannot spend all your time on it.
But that doesn’t mean you throw your hands up and walk away.
Pick someone in need, someone who is suffering and do something to alleviate that to the extent you can.
See a homeless person? Buy him a sandwich and a drink.
Go to a geriatric center and read to a resident.
Do you have a hobby or something that you enjoy and are really good at? Offer to train and share your interest with veterans or disadvantaged kids.
Look for some area where you can make a positive contribution to someone in need.
You cannot throw money at it. It is not about writing a check and feeling good.
It is about you, doing something concrete and personal.
You wash the dishes at a spiritual retreat – you don’t ‘get it done’.
Because, you see, you are not doing this ‘for’ someone.
You are doing this for yourself. You are acknowledging that, underneath the trappings of the role you play, you are just another ordinary human being stumbling your way through the predicament we call life.
So every time suffering somewhere in the world troubles you, do something to alleviate suffering near at hand in whatever area that you can. If you can afford it, by all means write a check to a worthwhile organization.
But that does not absolve you of doing something personally. When you, personally, wipe the drool from the lips of an incapacitated elder, and you do this with love and care, that is when you realize what a blessing you have received.
So let’s go ahead and serve.
PS: Have taken permission from Prof Rao to reproduce his mail here.