Two parts of our conversation especially stood out. As to be expected, we discussed the recent bombings in Paris and the refugees from Syria. We then broadened the conversation to people fleeing extreme poverty and violence in Central America and Mexico. Esther spoke of how some of her friends are not sympathetic with the plight of the immigrants who make their way to the U.S.
I said, “No matter who you are or what your beliefs, it is easy to love those around you, family and friends.”
Esther agreed. “A small circle.”
“But it’s harder to extend that circle of compassion outward, so that it goes beyond those you know to encompass the state, the country, the world. I sometimes have a hard time with this myself.”
“But that’s what we have to do,” Esther said. “Think of those kids in central America who are leaving home at fifteen or sixteen to come here. They live in slums. They don’t have any opportunities. And when they come north, they are not exactly traveling first class.”
“No, they aren’t. They walk. They ride on the roofs of trains. They rely on smugglers.”
The conversation continued. What if those children were our children or grandchildren? How would we feel to have a son or daughter leave home to go on a long journey he or she might not survive?
“What a terrible thought,” Esther said, no doubt thinking of her own grandchildren.
Yes, a terrible thought. Can we widen our circle of compassion to encompass all children, to acknowledge their basic right to have enough to eat, clean water, shoes, clothes, decent housing, education, health care, books, and even a few toys when they are young? And, as they get older, a positive way to support themselves. (To my way of thinking, digging in dirty, rat-infested trash heaps does not count as a positive way.)
From there, the conversation turned to poverty in general. Esther grew up on a subsistence farm in rural Maine, and she doesn’t mince words—she and her family were poor. When they had baked beans, there often wasn’t enough money to buy hot dogs to go with them. One year, around the holidays, her father sold a steer for $10, and they had “a good Christmas.” They never went hungry, and the taxes were always paid, but there wasn’t much left over. The family just scraped by.
“But,” Esther said, “Every day after the chores were done, my mother and I would take a walk. We’d admire the trees against the sky or what was in bloom.”
“Everyone needs beauty in their lives,” I said, and Esther nodded.
Food for the body, food for the soul. Both aspects need to be fed.