Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One starfish at a time

At a cafe in Lakshman Jhula, a stone throw away from Rishikesh, where I spent Christmas eve, a group of four young rich, hippy looking Americans just had latte, carrot cake, spinach and corn sandwich, fruit and nut cookies, brownies, mineral water. Why the list of what they ate?... to show they have not only cheese on their bread but also ham (figuratively this one of course, in the Abode of Gods!) As I sit inside having my double espresso (heaven, folks!... still not Bustello! and certainly not a Pantal's cup!) and carrot cake I watch them leave. Outside the door is an old beggar woman so emaciated, you could see through her. She touches their elbows, as they pass, her hand outstretched asking for a few rupees. One of them brush her away, the others walk by not even seeing her. And it strikes me. I do it too. Most of us do it. What motivates us to pass by this immense poverty without any emotion, pity, sadness, disgust, outrage, anger... whatever... something. How can we turn away so readily? How can we not see it? Are we pretending? Do we feel it is not our problem? Do we feel too powerless? So it's been, so it will always be. Whoa! A very well-off Indian I met with whom I was discussing this issue told me, "Don't worry about it, Isabelle. India has plenty food to feed its people." Is that so? I've seen food lines in Rishikesh. But also I see hundreds of people lining up the streets asking for a few rupees of passer-bys.
It is overwhelming here. I feel a weight on my shoulders that is overbearing. There is no putting it down. My favorite quote which I am very hard trying to make my motto "Be the change". What can I do to make a change in this world? Not have that second cup of coffee? What will that accomplish? Give the 30 Rs. or so to the old woman? And then?... Remember the "forward" (I am sure most of you received!) about an old man on a beach with thousands of starfish (or was it turtles?) that were stranded on the sand and he was throwing them back in the ocean one at a time. A passerby asked him what difference what he was doing made with so many to save. He wisely replied as he threw one starfish back in the water "It makes a difference to this one!" The deal here is, you give this one old lady 10 Rs. and you are soon surrounded by 10 outstretched hands! See, here I go already finding excuses!... One outstretched hand at a time, Isabelle!
Eight more days in India, then back in Miami in my pretty pink house with the well manicured lawn in the nice neighborhood where no old lady with an outstretched hand will come in my path. But in my mind's eyes she'll always be there. Because she is not only here in India, she is in Haiti certainly, in Paris (remember, Mildred, the lady in the train the day I arrived last January?) and of course in Miami too, somewhere I'll find her.

This earth has to find a way to feed its people decently. H.H. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, the Guru at this ashram says the solution to poverty is for the whole world to become vegetarian (you hear that, Kap?!) He suggested at the next summit they serve all veg meals!! I think his take is that there is room everywhere to grow all the foods we might need to feed everyone, and as vegetarians we will be in better harmony with each other! Nice idea (and I crassly add, "after my fillet mignon when I get back home!!)

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