Sunday, April 08, 2007

Bleeding Heart

My confession has to do with the real reason I want to go to Africa. Sometimes late at night I get sad about something, and I feel so guilty that I think the only way I can live with myself is if I go and do something for children who are so much worse off than I. If I were to live with the suffering, maybe I could learn to let myself suffer less – a sort of emotional equilibrium. In those late-night moments, I believe I’m willing to sacrifice having a conventional, American, suburban existence with kids, a car and a blender. I think I could live with the hardship and without a husband – that it’s the sacrifice I should make after having 30 years of too much homework, no chocolate handy and unequal love being my principle complaints. When I really sit down to think about it, my life is a little blip on the radar, except to me. So why should it matter if I get to have children and drink lattes?

What I don’t know, and what I am afraid to find out, is for how long I will continue to relish having a broken heart thinking of children, emaciated, starved for affection and doomed. It’s such a guilty pain to indulge. But if it were ever to desert me, I could not ever respect myself again. It’s ironic in how much self-torture I engage in for having an over-developed sense of compassion, but if I were actually to do the compassionate thing – take swift and decisive action towards a goal in which I believe – I might run out of my supply and truly then hate what was left of me.

Then what about the days when I believe that because I can’t make life better for each and every kid, it’s acceptable that I turn right around and hide again in my plastic-coated, air-conditioned little life, telling myself that I’ll get a job designing “interventions” or carrying out research that may eventually have some statistically significant effect. I tell myself that mom and dad would be sad, lonely without me, that they might even feel neglected. And I stick around. I stick in the mud. I move so slowly, but promise myself it’s movement and I’ll get to those excellent intentions one day – I’ll be that remarkable, selfless, doer some day soon.

I’m not that now. Now, by my own standards, most of the time I’m not that bad. I am a hard worker but an even harder judge of others. I’m a doer – mostly when someone’s looking. I’m remarkable, it seems, only in my glib self-taunting and unrelenting stream of public confessions describing the latest episode of idiocy I perpetrated. I’m selfless when time and energy allow. Have I ever made the hard choices? If ever it seemed that way, the reality of an enjoyable pain was probably hidden just under the surface.