As we follow the changing maps of tropical storms Harvey, Irma, Jose, and now Maria, many of us have been looking at what meteorologists are calling the “cone of possibility.” Before you think that is a good thing – it isn’t. The cone of possibility means it is the area where a hurricane may possibly pass. You don’t want to be there. So, understandably, we get anxious when we see our hometown or our family inside that cone of possibility. We know that’s where lives change, homes are destroyed, and hunger grows.
Cathy Rubin in her Global Search for Education is tackling poverty this month.This article is part of that series.
We get upset and nervous as the storm draws closer. We run to the store. We talk to friends. We might even talk to our neighbors (for a change).
Until we find out that the hurricane is going somewhere else. While we may worry for those being hit by the storm, deep down, the truth be told, we breathe a sigh of relief.
Deep down, we’re glad that it isn’t our family. We’re relieved that it isn’t our neighborhood, because…
Our children won’t go hungry. Our house won’t lose electricity. We’ll be OK. It isn’t us.
Then, we tune into the news, and it looks like just another reality TV show. From the comfort of our homes, we watch the storms blow, while children and families we’ve never met are playing out the worst days of their lives for the world to see. We might offer a prayer, but deep down, we’re glad — glad that it isn’t us.
Feel the Fear
This time, I ask you to try something different. Take the fear that you felt about losing power, losing access to food, losing the ability to get to your job or even drive your car. Try living with the fear that death might touch your family, that you won’t have a safe place to shelter from terrible things happening outside your door.
I know that feeling. I struggled with it as I crouched in my closet while Hurricane Irma blew and I prayed that the leaning pine tree in my front yard wouldn’t take that moment to fall over and crush my house. My sixteen-year-old was sleeping in his closet. We wanted him safe, but even so, we weren’t sure that he would be. There are no guarantees when the storm hits. This time, it could be us.
So yes, take that fear and really feel it. Because, friends, we’re not overreacting when we get all worked up about a storm. Horrific weather events like this kill, cause hunger, and deprive people of basic necessities. We have telethons and raise money. And we should. These storms are horrible.
It Is Our House!
Daniel Simmons, an African-American pastor in the nearby town of Albany, Georgia, leads a congregation in one of the poorest cities in America. He told a similar story this past week, pointed a finger at us, and said:
“We won’t be able to make this place a better place until we realize that our neighbor’s house is our house. It is our house!”
And this, my friends, is poverty. We get upset by a storm because storms don’t play favorites. Old, young, rich, poor — all can be harmed by a storm. All become similar in their want and poverty. When the storm comes, we all suffer.
But this is the problem we have today in America and around the world: We refuse to claim our neighbor’s house as our own.
Sure, a crying two-year-old is found wandering down the street at night in Albany, Georgia. But it isn’t our child. (This happened just this week.) Sure, kids are hungry, but it isn’t our child. Kids don’t come to school because they lay awake last night scared of the gunshots on their street. But it isn’t our street.
Caring, Owning, and Acting
People who don’t care don’t dare.
People who don’t care don’t dare work to raise money for more library books. They don’t dare hold fundraisers to earn money to send kids on a special field trip. They don’t dare fight to feed the hungry in their neighborhood. Somebody needs to do those things, but so many people won’t because they refuse to own the problem. Sure, they’re sorry that someone else has a problem. Sure, they’re sad when they hear about suffering. But the only time that we’ll act is when we care enough to dare do something.
What makes you furious? What makes you angry? What gets you upset?
Until we as human beings can take ownership and realize that the poor in our neighbors are our family, our children, our neighbors — until we can feel that these problems are truly ours, I agree with Pastor Simmons that we likely won’t care enough to actually do something about it.
Poverty Is Within Everyone’s Cone of Possibility
If the hurricanes are doing anything, they’re waking people to the realization that poverty is within anyone’s cone of possibility. And while we can be upset about actual hurricanes blowing in from the Caribbean, we should also be upset that some children live in figurative hurricanes every single day. They live wondering if they’ll keep electricity, if they’ll have food, if their home can keep them safe from the storm that rages in their neighborhood.
I will admit that I haven’t felt the pain and anguish that I should feel for children and families living in poverty. That must change. It will change. I cannot stay the same after tasting the fear of poverty as we considered Irma’s hit on our hometown. I’ve been complacent because I haven’t owned it.
As long as we excuse the tragedy of poverty in our world by saying, “It doesn’t impact me,” we set ourselves up for an even bigger shock on the day that it will impact us.
When enough people in society are hopeless and enough other people in a society are heartless, that society is in danger of a storm for which there is no cone of possibility of escape for anyone within its borders.
We must fight poverty with as much force and frantic pursuit as we prepare for the storms that blow into our lives during this most terrible hurricane season. For truly, the storm of poverty is always with us and destroys lives every day. And we as educators must be part of the shelter and solution.
These are our children. These are our families. This is our neighborhood. And this is our time. We will not be heartless. We will help the hopeless. And we’ll stop sitting in our comfy homes and classrooms patting ourselves on the back because “it isn’t me.”
Poverty anywhere impacts people everywhere — for we have one big home called Planet Earth, and winds from which no one can escape are blowing stronger each year.
May we all awaken to a different level of caring about the problems of our communities, our neighbors, and our world, because we are far more interconnected than any of us can imagine or understand.
So, if I have a call to action for all of you reading this, it is to wake up and realize that many of us might not getting involved because it is someone else. We can't do that any more. We have to realize these are our schools, our countries, our cities.
When the storm of poverty hits anyone in our community, it hits us all. And we, as educators, must be passionate and purposeful about providing shelter from the storm for the children in its path.
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This topic is important although it is hard to discuss. “Our neighbor’s house, is our house.” This line could not be more true. When I tried to start a Fast for Darfur, to help aid those who have been displaced by genocide, so many people told me that we need to help our country first. Almost everyone I approached told me that we shouldn’t worry about a far off country, because it doesn’t affect us. But you are so right, we are one world and it does affect us and it will affect the world that we leave to our youth.