Category Archives: Love Your Neighbor

Suicide Catcher

Who are we responsible to and for?  That’s been a question I’ve explored on this blog, which looks at the Biblical jubilee principles — forgiveness of debt, restitution, letting things lie fallow, and bearing one another’s burdens.

With that question in mind, I commend to you an excellent article in the May, 2010 issue of GQ (yes, Gentleman’s Quarterly).  Michael Paterniti wrote it, and it’s staggeringly beautiful and very important.  Please read it.  Even though it’s not online.  Go find it.  Jake Gyllenhaal is on the cover.

It’s about a man who is a gruff, self-appointed angel who attempts to prevent suicides on a four-mile-long bridge over the Yangtze River in Nanjing, China.  Apparently one-fifth of the world’s suicides are in China, about 200,000 per year.  And Mr. Chen, who keeps statistics on a blog and whom Paterniti visited for this story, has saved 174 people.

Paterniti describes Nanjing, a city of 6 million, thus: “Daytime temperatures regularly topped ninety degrees here — due to hot air being trapped by the mountains at the lower end of the Yangtze River valley… and, oh yeah, because all the trees had been chopped down — and the sun rarely shone.  Meanwhile, the city continued to explode in the noonday of the country’s hungry expansion.  The past was being abandoned at an astonishing rate, the new skyscrapers and apartment buildings replacing the old neighborhoods.  Everything — and everyone — was disposable. Schisms formed.  The bridge loomed.  Loss led to despair, which, in turn, led to Mr. Chen.”

And Paterniti described the community of those saved by Mr. Chen: “Of those he saved, some small number met near the bridge every year around Christmas to celebrate their new lives and ostensibly to offer their thanks.  As part of the ceremony, they calculated their new ages from the date of their salvation.  In this born-again world, no one was older than 6.”

And giving voice to Chen’s reasons for taking on the task of binocular-toting persuasion and suicide prevention, Paterniti writes, “The reason Mr. Chen was in the business of saving lives now was that, as a boy, he’d always gone unanswered. There is a saying in Chinese he used, that he never possessed ‘mother’s shoes.'”

He writes further, “It was from the incompleteness of his own family that he’d built this not-so-secret life as the defender of broken humanity.”

This, people, is a beautiful article.  I’ve only given you a taste.  Go find it.  It’s long, nuanced, important.

GQ has a lot more than cleavage.  I enjoy it immensely.  Don’t miss this article.

Michelle Obama and Exposure to the Arts as a Gateway to More

I’m a fan of our First Lady.  And I enjoyed this article in the Washington Post today, “To showcase nation’s arts, first lady isn’t afraid to spotlight the unexpected.”

I love how she mixes power D.C. with “regular” D.C.  I love her attention to healthy food, arts, people.  I wish we were neighbors.  We are, relatively speaking, but we don’t exactly hang out together.

But I digress.  What I loved most about this article was her assertion that when children are exposed to a variety of things, they begin to know that more could happen in their lives.  Let me quote her, not me (way more exciting):

“My life is an anecdotal representation of the importance of music and culture. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago where you had me and my brother and a set of kids who happened to have parents that were a little more enlightened,” she said during an interview about her arts interests and advocacy. “We got to go to the symphony and we got to experience opera and we got to see and go to the museums when we were young. But we were also hanging out with kids who didn’t know these museums existed in the city they grew up in. We grew up with kids who had never seen the lake because they lived on the west side.”

She paused, and her silence underscored her disbelief. “Their disconnect from the heart of the city of Chicago was so deep,” she said, “that they had never seen the lake.”

“There’s a difference between where I am and where many of them are and that’s when I say, ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ because these kids were smart, engaged,” she said. “They were missing that opportunity, and many times that opportunity came in the form of arts and culture.”

I take it for granted that my children had the chance to experience all sorts of arts, as well as all sorts of all sorts of things. But how can I see to it that all children in our country will have that?

Someone Has to Love the Crooked Ones

Ah it must be genetic.  For my grandmother was known for looking after the downtrodden and struggling.

Not that I’m as inclined towards altruistic involvement as I want to be, but I do have a leaning towards anything or anyone that/who is at risk of rejection.

Last week I was buying groceries and I chose a beautiful Bromeliad plant to take home.  I’ve loved them ever since my sister-in-law gave me one to mark the occasion of my daughter’s birth 21 years ago.

When I got it to the register, the checkout clerk said, “Oh you don’t want this one; it’s bent.”

And I blurted out, “Oh, yes, this is the one for me; I have a particular love of crooked things.  Someone’s gotta take home the messed up ones.”

We laughed, and then she said quietly, “Maybe you could take me home.  I’m messed up.”

I should have said, beyond the joking tone in which I did say it, “Come on; let’s go!”

I could tell I would have liked her.  We could have been messed up together while we admired the Bromeliad.

Mary Oliver’s “Halleluiah”

Yes, I’m the last person on the planet to find Mary Oliver’s poems.  And here’s one I want to share today from, “Evidence,” one of her fabulous collections.  It’s as true a poem for a 49-year-old as for a 60+-year-old.

Everyone should be born into this world happy

and loving everything.

But in truth it rarely works that way.

For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.

Halleluiah, anyway I’m not where I started.

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes

almost forgetting how wondrous the world is

and how miraculously kind some people can be?

And have you decided that probably nothing important

is every easy?

Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I’m sixty now, and even a little more,

and some days I feel I have wings.

Appropriating the Same Inspiration

I heard sociologist Peter Berger speak about his book In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions without Becoming a Fanatic, and he made a point that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Martin Luther King (and the Civil Rights Movement)and the Ku Klux Klan both used the song “The Old Rugged Cross” as an inspiration for their causes.

How often we see only one perspective and use data to support what we “know” or use other things to drum up emotions related to our cause.

More Wisdom from Jim Palmer’s Divine Nobodies

I want to whet your appetite, not provide you with a reason not to read the whole book.  I love this book, Divine Nobodies.  Go buy it (preferably from an independent bookstore).

I was struck with a chapter on living out our faith day to day, entitled “Where the Rubber Meets the Road,” and this passage in particular:

“For years, I ran with the elk (sometimes led the pack) who were convinced God wanted us to birth movements, shift paradigms, and save the world.  Given the magnitude of it all, I didn’t have the time, energy, or inclination to help the guy wandering into a coffee shop at closing time looking for a hot shower and a warm bed.  I wonder if the good Samaritan story was a secret message to all tire salesmen, truckers, coffee-shop owners, cashiers, waitresses, carpet installers, UPS drivers, accountants, tech-heads, stay-at-home moms, working single moms, bartenders, barbers, and butchers to keep their eyes wide open, because the professionals are too preoccupied with grander things, passing by real people with needs God placed right beneath their noses in everyday life…. Loving the folks in my cul-de-sac wasn’t good enough.  I had to do something bigger and more spectacular.  I mean, come on, how many people do you know who went off on a spiritual retreat and returned with the grand notion of getting to know the people in their neighborhood?”

Small is beautiful. Big can be beautiful too.  But it’s not inherently more beautiful.  One person trumps one program every time.  One story grabs me; 500 stories wear me out.  One person at a time; that’s how love is measured.

Thanks, Jim Palmer!