There’s an old story about a Zen master who lived outside a village. One day he had a vision that the water in the village would be poisoned. He tried to warn the villagers, but they wouldn’t listen. Sure enough, the water became poisoned. When the villagers drank it, they began to hallucinate and became completely crazy. The man walked back into the town and tried to convince them the water was making them sick, but they didn’t believe him. Eventually, the villagers became so delusional that they destroyed their own village and killed the man who was trying to help them.
We are living in insane times. To believe otherwise, one would have to completely ignore recent news, the shooting in Annapolis (and other mass shootings), the opioid crisis, the separation of children from their families, the threat of nuclear war, climate change, destruction of the environment including local water pollution by Mountaire Farms; the list goes on.
How do we find any peace of mind?
I’ve noticed a kind of dangerous apathy among some friends and family recently, including LGBTQ folk. Like the words on Melania’s jacket: “I really don’t care, do U?”
We have a choice: take the risk of caring and experience the pain of what is happening around us, or completely ignore the suffering and convince ourselves this is happiness. It’s simple: connect (share in the suffering of others) or disconnect (live in a detached fantasy world). Disconnecting is easy. Who wants to experience other people’s suffering? Especially when our lives are comfortable?
The village is America. Our water has been poisoned with dislike of others, suspicion of others, distrust of others.
It’s easy to look at the surface and make assumptions about people. I do this all the time. But when I take the time to get to know people, I often realize my assumptions were wrong. As different as we seem, we have so much more in common than we realize. We eat, we sleep, we are born, we must die, we hurt, we want to feel loved and accepted.
Our future depends on finding common ground.
When I was a teenager, I had the experience of leaving the country and volunteering in an orphanage. I met a young boy who cursed like a sailor. His head was shaven after a lice outbreak. He told me his father was in prison for murdering his mother. He tried to act tough when he said this. On my last day, he stopped acting. He said, “Please don’t leave me here.”
“I can’t take you with me,” I explained.
“Can you come back one day and find me?”
“I don’t really know,” I told him.
I never saw the boy again. He would be older now. I’m not exactly sure what I learned from this. There was nothing I could say or do to help. But I really cared. I still do. I hope he is okay. As painful as it is, I would rather care than not care.▼
James Adams Smith works as an English tutor at Delaware Technical & Community College and is studying to become an occupational therapist.