Privileged Pizzas & Flashy Fries
I was taking my last evening stroll of the year through my fairly affluent neighborhood. The atmosphere was abuzz with a festive frenzy of sorts, people bidding a good riddance to 2020 and welcoming the new year with their own little rituals. Kids were meeting up for coffee, adults were scurrying away with blackened bags containing poisons of their own choice. Stores were resplendent, restaurants were busy and vehicles were honking away to reach their designated celebratory venues of the night.
I couldn't have walked more than fifty steps further when something on the walkway caught my eye. It was fire blazing in a tin can, providing heat to a family who lived in a makeshift tent on the footpath. A torn mosquito net as canvas and discarded clothes for wardrobe, I watched a little girl, probably younger than my 8-year-old niece, cutting up vegetables by the warmth and light of the fire. Her parents were setting up their little corner for what would evidently not be a fulfilling dinner, and her brother was holding up the vegetables for lack of a place to set them down.
I stood there still, shifting my gaze around to fully understand the situation unfolding in front of me. I must have passed them only a thousand times, but never before did I comprehend the hardwired injustice of it all. To my left, I saw one of the tallest skyscrapers of the area; and to my right was only this vulnerable net, providing a home to a family of four. To my left, I saw a community of oblivious passer-bys, whose topmost priority tonight was going to be if they have enough booze, or if their food would be delivered on time; while to my right, I saw this beautiful child, laboriously using every edible part of her food so as to not waste any.
I wish I could assume the moral high ground before saying what will follow. But I too had stepped out for my walk only after paying hundred bucks for a coffee and a snack. So, I can shamefully say we're all guilty here, together. Guilty of neglect, of narcissism, and of indifference.
I realize not everybody is as morbid about celebrations as I tend to be, neither should you be. I also realize what a tremendously difficult year anybody and everybody has had, and that that gives them all the right in the world to take the little joys that life might offer. But, what I also very deeply understand, and this is where I noticed most others fail - is that if I, with all the good fortune I have, had it bad; then somebody else got it way worse. Should that diminish the magnitude of the challenges I've faced or the celebrations when I overcome them? No, of course not, I earned that shit; we all did. But, should it make me a little more aware (read: "woke"), a little less apathetic and in turn empathetic to the plea of the not-as-privileged?
I don't particularly enjoy delivering sermons, and from what I know, people don't like receiving them. So, I come to you today, asking you to keep in mind only two things.
Gratitude - and then some more. You have a fully-functioning electronic device with a stable internet connection, for God's sake. A roof over your head, food on your plate, and laughs to share with your loved ones. As far as I'm concerned, your new year is already blessed, irrespective of whether you splurge thousands on a single night of food and wine and partying or not.
Kindness - and then A LOT more. While you got a chance to reconnect with old friends, perhaps somebody had to bury one. While you go all out tonight, somebody might be struggling to feed their sick kids. I have constantly reiterated my sincere faith in the magic of the universe. While some call it delusional, I call it humanity. All you need to do to keep that magic alive is to be tolerant. Empathetic. Altruistic, even. Philanthropy doesn't always presume the shape of a million dollar donation. It comes in form of a gentle word here, an affectionate gesture there. It comes in dancing with some kids in the rain, or leaving your jacket behind for the shivering decrepit.
The collective catastrophe that befell humankind this year overshadowed everything else. Yes, it might be the most permeating threat we're facing currently. But, it's not the only one. I only ask you to not forget the predicaments that have long lasted. I only ask you, look out for that little girl in the makeshift tent. She needs us to have her back.