The Christophers, a group that encourages people to use their God-given talents to make a difference, has a saying: It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.
I spend far too much time cursing the darkness. And feeling guilty that I have lived so simple and secure a life, full of love. I oscillate between thinking I should completely avoid the news and live in ignorance of evil - so that I can stop sinning in my anger against and my opinions of human beings - and believing that such ignorance would itself be a crime.
Yesterday I finally decided to read a section of the Sunday newspaper that covered women's and children's rights in Guatemala. Moving from one article to the next, my anger increased, for I was reading yet again an old story, only about a different country, of women and children being maltreated by men in the twisted confines of an utterly male-dominated society: denied education, essentially sold into marriages by poverty-stricken parents, abused both physically and sexually by boyfriends, husbands and fathers, dependent on their abusers because of their lack of means, frightened or wary to approach authorities that statistically do little or nothing to prosecute the males in their lives, betrayed by destitute mothers who are themselves so dependent on these "men" that they do not protect their children or report the crimes for fear of inevitable starvation.
In Guatemala girls marry and get pregnant young; thirteen is not uncommon. Education is seen as an unnecessary investment of their time when they are simply to be married off to often strange men who desire them for their physical selves - not their whole person. How there can be any hope for love or respect in such an arrangement of ignorance....well, I do not think there can be, which is perhaps why these girls often end up in misery, repeating the patterns of their mothers and grandmothers. Boys and girls are raised witnessing the poison of such a culture, and they would be fortunate indeed not to imbibe it, but how can they avoid it?
How many times have I read similar articles about other cultures all over the world, in Asia, Africa, the Middle East?
Every time I read such stories I struggle with my view on men in general. I struggle badly. But how it is that at this point in history there are still cultures and governments on this planet that do not protect women and children's rights with the full force of law confounds and angers me. Are the challenges of acquiring food in these countries so desperate that people's sexual, emotional and mental health, including education, are ignored? It must contribute. One Arizona university psychologist, interviewed for the stories, said it was not enough to blame the stereotypical Latin "machismo", either, for Guatemala suffered terribly for ten years with a civil war where men were acclimated to extreme violence and women were viewed as war prizes or as the objects of terror tactics.
Still I do not think that should fully explain the depravity. If mankind is essentially good, would he not crawl out of a hell hole, if slowly? Can the most basic unmet needs for food, water and shelter kill his soul?
But can I truly say anything when I live in a country where poor is not poor compared to the poverty that is suffered in third world countries, where laws exist - and more are introduced every year - that protect each individual's rights? Can I judge anything when my life has been so sheltered in the United States of America?
If more people like me worked more diligently to feed the poor in this world, I firmly believe the poor would have more time to worry about their emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.
Here comes my struggle with guilt. I take my son to a pizza, games and bowling venue and think of all the children in the world who do not even have a full meal that day, let alone fun. I wish sometimes for a bigger house but then imagine all the families in India, Central America and Africa living in shanty towns or measly huts with no running water or electricity. I think of my desire for a few new summer clothes and then feel selfish in wanting pretty outfits when others have next to nothing to wear and no shoes for their feet. I just feel guilty period that others live in misery every day of their lives.
I am unbalanced, because I curse the darkness regularly, ruminating on its influence, but spend far too little time lighting candles.
There is always hope, and I did read of the women in Guatemala working to change the culture for themselves and others, pushing for education, freedom and for better laws and enforcement. Some of those women worked for government agencies, tracking statistics so that they can engender change, or heading schools, enticing families to keep their kids in for the free meals they give each day. Right now I have no doubt there are too few of those women, but there will not always be.
There will not always be.
Personally, as a woman I must stop feeling guilty and start acting, using my God-given abilities to bring about change in my small or not so small way. In speaking with my husband yesterday evening, he told me I should stop talking and find a charity that acts for women's and children's rights, and then I need to support their efforts. He is absolutely right, for if I continue to sit around just reading newspapers and feeling furious with my fellow human beings, I am only adding to the darkness and the despair.
I'd rather light some candles.