This week has been crazy. Early estimates of the death toll from the earthquake in Haiti shock us. Scare us. Fifty thousand dead. Many, many more injured and homeless.
And most of us looked on from our comfortable lives, thinking about Haiti for the first time in months. Maybe years. Poverty on the doorsteps of America, but we never see, never hear about it, until there is a catastrophe to capture our interest.
I know from personal experience how small my life can get without some prodding to lift my eyes to needs outside my own circle. Without prompting, my world shrinks into a daily grind of my work, my family, my writing, my church. Stuff, big stuff goes on, but I’m self-absorbed, lost in the little world where my pride can rule.
What’s disturbing, is that this seems to be the default for so many of us. Without a significant outside stimulus, we slip into a life of smallness, self-absorption and the call to love our neighbors is lost in the process.
Think about the typical American exposed only to our evening news. America is consumed with the private lives of Hollywood and rarely hears a news story of significance beyond our borders unless it is a report on Afghanistan or Iraq. Africa and South America are forgotten. Do we really think that what a Hollywood starlet wears is more important than the poverty, HIV crisis, government corruption, or natural disaster brewing beyond our borders?
I think the answer is no. At least that’s what I want to believe. But ultimately, I fear it must be about money: a story isn’t likely to be mentioned if it isn’t able to sell ad copy. Only the most amazing catastrophe will do.
How does any of this apply to our pursuits here?
Because stories from around the world help battle the smallness of our lives. They prod us to think of peoples different than ourselves, teaching us that our narrow viewpoints need to be exploded.
Let me make a second observation. Disasters, natural and otherwise manufactured, often leave us with little more than a few moments of dyspepsia before we return to our self-centeredness. Our news reports flick from the victims of war, to the death-toll of an earthquake to an advertisement for peanut butter without a pause. We need a personal connection to make it real. And so often, it is a personal story from within the large framework of an unprecedented disaster, that takes the message home. If I know the name of a thirsty orphan crying for her mother, clutching the little doll her father worked a second job to be able to afford, I am drawn in. I care. It will be the stories of individuals facing conflict that help our hearts understand. That is the power of story. We relate to the protagonist. His or her conflicts become our own. And we are changed in the process.
Novels that bring us the problems of people far away and very different from ourselves, expand our world and make it small at the same time. Expand it by making us aware of new cultures and new worldviews. Shrink it by helping me see that every man is my brother. We all thirst. We all hurt. We all love.
So thanks to my esteemed international Christian fiction writer colleagues. Keep telling the stories that keep my eyes on the horizons beyond my little world.