Laura and I stopped Wednesday night at the Qwik Shop at Bob Billings and Kasold after the KU women’s game. All we wanted were two frosty-cold milks for the drive home to Topeka. Instead, we got food for thought.
Getting out of our car, a woman yelled at us, “Can you help me?” She was standing by her car at the gas pumps as she continued, “I need money for gas to get to Topeka because my sister is in the hospital.” We picked up our pace and went inside.
Who hasn’t heard this? Bus money for funeral trips, gas money for racing to hospitals, prescription money for sick children. We have become calloused to such cries that I always worry I have become like those that walked to the other side of the road instead of the Good Samaritan that offered unconditional aid.
Inside we paid a young, college-age girl working alone in the convenience store. She clearly had been crying. “Did that woman yell for money from you,” she asked while choking back tears? The clerk went on to explain the woman had come in almost demanding help. “I used my own credit card and paid for a gallon of gas for her,” she continued. We knew a gallon of gas would have easily gotten her to Topeka from west Lawrence. As she told this story, I looked outside to see the woman driving away glaring at the three of us from her car as she passed by the main doors. We expressed our concern and sorrow before heading on our own journey to Topeka.
Strangely, the next morning I picked up the paper to read about former Jefferson West and Iowa State basketball player Paul Shirley. Shirley was in trouble with ESPN over his comments regarding Haiti and charity efforts to help the earthquake-stricken country. Shirley had become something of local legend for a book he wrote detailing his brief career in the NBA. His writing skills led to an ESPN column that has now been cancelled.
Shirley’s comments on a blog drew parallels between giving to Haiti and to others like the woman at the Qwik Shop. “I haven’t donated to Haitian relief effort for the same reason I don’t give money to homeless men on the street,” Shirley wrote. “I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads ‘Need You’re (sic) Help’ is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.” Shirley went on to blast the living conditions in Haiti that he believed led to such widespread disaster and death.
I disagree with Shirley that charitable efforts for Haiti are wasted. Laura and I were happy to donate during KU’s recent fund-raising for the Red Cross. Such agencies are on the ground helping and will be long after the media latest news cycle has moved on to the next headline grabber. Only the fool-hearty would turn their backs on these selfless individuals and agencies. Thankfully many have not.
Shirley went on to comment that poor living conditions and construction in Haiti were to blame for the high cost in lives. “It is not outside the realm of imagination,” Shirley wrote, “ to think that the citizens of a country might be able to: A) avoid putting themselves into a situation that might result in such catastrophic loss of life, and B) provide for their own aid in the event of such a catastrophe.”
Having never been to Haiti, it is impossible to be sure of this comment, though I suspect solving these problems would be much harder than Shirley might like. History has proved that the people of Haiti have been persecuted by scores of occupying nations and selfish leaders. Their economy is awful. I can only imagine how difficult life must be there in the best of times.
This past September, KU played football in El Paso. Riding on one of the team buses from the airport along Interstate 10 to the team hotel, we could look out one side of the bus at El Paso and to other side Juarez, Mexico. While El Paso would never rank as one of the prettiest cities in the United States, the view of Juarez was especially saddening for its hills were cluttered with nothing more than shacks clustered together for mile upon mile. It doesn’t surprise me that Juarez has become the murder capital of the world.
Thinking back, I wonder now about the devastation that would result should the same size earthquake hit that area? Surely, on the Mexican side of the border, we would be seeing Haitian-type photographs and videos. El Paso would be better if only because the area is less populated and building standards far exceed those of Mexico.
I wonder how we would all react when thousands upon thousands flooded American hospitals for emergency care in the midst of such a disaster only to find they do not have health insurance. I can’t argue all the nuances the raging debate in Washington over health care, but I am so very sure of this. We need universal health care. For everyone arguing otherwise, I hope they will have their charity checks ready when such a disaster does strike the United States.
If you have read anything about Congressman Charlie Wilson or seen the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, you might remember some of the closing scenes of the outstanding movie.
Wilson is seen basking in the glow of one of the greatest covert actions in history, a program to organize and support The Afghan mujahideen in their resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan beginning in 1980. Millions upon millions were directed to secretly arm the Afghans. One of his key accomplices is a rogue CIA agent Gust Avrakotos. Avrakotos comes to Wilson to warn that money was still needed to rebuild the country and its educational framework or even bigger problems would surely develop.
Wilson returned to Congress only to find his colleagues had moved on to other more glossy action than funding schools in Afganistan. The movie closes with this Wilson quote.
“These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world…and then we fxxxed up the end game.”
As a country, we do seem to mess up the end game time after time. We seem incapable of seeing beyond our own self-needs unless crisis strikes. We are ready and willing to open our wallets and purses in times of crisis but fight with such zeal when we are asked to work together to bring about workable solutions to problems before they become crisis.
So where does that leave me and the woman wanting money? Sadly, really nowhere. I admit I am going to walk by almost every time. I knew the money I would have given her would not have been used constructively. We have made it easier to sit on a corner with a sign than to find real work. Fortunately, there are many agencies here in the United States ready and willing to help, as is the Red Cross in Haiti right now.
What I have to do, just as we all must, is to help those ready and willing to work to not mess up the end games with my time, my money and my vote. That is good food for thought.