I am not talking about its scenery, although it is breathtakingly glorious from mountain to coast. I have come to see, now that I am here where beauty is scarce, that America maintains a lot of its beauty by hiding what is ugly. Those with deformity and disease are tucked away in hospitals or homes or worse. We have a methods, inventions, programs, even surgeries to transform many forms of ugliness into something more beautiful. We say it's for the benefit of the person, so that they won't have to be gawked at or ashamed or embarrassed. I'm sure that's true, but, I think it may be more for our comfort than theirs. It's hard to see other people suffer. Drinking a five dollar latte isn't quite as enjoyable when its in a setting of naked and diseased children. It's better to save those images for telethons when we can see them from the safety of our living room sofa. That way there's no smell to make it too real.
I stood outside a school today watching wealthy, healthy people pick up their darlin' little children from school. I was one of them.
In the midst of the school parent crowd, someone else also shows up every day: A little girl, probably the age of Curly Girl. She doesn't come there to go to school. Every day she walks along silently, leading a very elderly man by the hand. His eyes are empty sockets, darkness and deformity where eyes once were. He politely and quietly asks for money. He isn't pushy. In fact, he doesn't even know if you're paying attention to him. So, if he doesn't hear an answer, the little girl will lead him along to someone else. She is timid and shy and very pretty...I wonder if she knows that.
I also wonder if our children inside the protective walls of their school are learning qualities like gentleness, like the kind I see her show the old man.
I can't look too long. It disturbs me. I don't want to see her or look into his mutilated face. I want a latte and an ocean view and sweet smelling living rooms to sit in with my friends. I want to go back to when poverty and suffering were a concept in my mind, not this girl and this man...But I can't go back and I feel like I'll never be able to.
I am not criticizing the rich--I am rich. I am not indicting those who buy a latte or send their kids to a good school. I do all those things...or I used to anyway. There's nothing wrong with those things. But, it's like the Matrix. Do I want beauty or do I want reality?
As I rode along the other day, my stomach in knots from continually seeing both people and animals cruelly mistreated, a verse came to my mind and I welled up with emotion.
Matthew 9:36 When JESUS saw the crowds HE had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.
I am only looking at these things with America as a comparison of how life can be--but JESUS saw all these sufferings and more with Heaven as the comparison. If my own heart could barely handle the grief, how much more HIS pure, perfectly loving heart?
I know that one day I will live in a KINGdom where pain, sorrow and suffering are the old order of things. But that's not for me now, not now. Life in Conakry is raw and violent and ugly. And somehow its the most beautiful life I can imagine living.