Like last week, this week’s post is also inspired by my recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana. While there, the trip leader continually emphasized how we often are willing to help and remember victims of tragedy and their suffering for a short time, but then we lose interest. We forget.
I was convicted.
Hurricane Katrina happened about eight years ago. At the time, people (including myself) were moved by dramatic images of people standing on roofs, using dressers as makeshift boats, and standing in the blazing heat around the Superdome, waiting, praying, for supplies to come soon. Donations and help poured in. However, eight years after the storm, have we forgotten? There are still doors in the lower 9th ward that are spraypainted with the date FEMA came and the number of dead bodies found inside. There are still children being raised by grandparents because their parents died. There is still more that needs to be done to help.
This doesn’t only apply to Hurricane Katrina. The last century has had its fair share of tragedy and human suffering, both due to natural disasters and man’s own doing. After a few news cycles, we forget. That doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. The Congo is still reeling from the terrible oppression of King Leopold way back in the early 1900s. Haiti is still not rebuilt. Tragedies don’t go away all at once.
In his speech, “The Perils of Indifference”, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel warned against this forgetfulness. He tells the painful story of how forgotten he and his fellow Polish Jews felt during that time. He tells of how the boat the St. Louis was turned back to Nazi Germany from New York, carrying 1,000 Jewish passengers. And, he says that this type of thing can happen again if we do not remember.
That is why remembering, and not just remembering, but bearing witness to, the suffering of others can change the world. Even if the suffering is distant. Even if the suffering has passed. Even if we can literally do nothing about it. We have to remember it, we have to identify with it, and we have to bear witness to it.
If you are interested in Mr. Wiesel’s speech (I highly recommend it), it begins at about 14 minutes and ends at 30 minutes in the video below.