Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mary & Martha

I don't know where to start with this post. I'm not an overly-emotional person, but I watched this tonight and cried. Multiple times. For multiple very, very different reasons.

I am white. A white, blonde, American woman who lives a very privileged, safe, successful life. Most likely, I will never have to watch my son die of malaria, or typhoid, or malnutrition, or cholera. I will never have my daughter writhe on a hospital bed as her little heart literally explodes with disease. My son will not die like the baby I held in Jamaica because the only doctors are hours away by bus. My daughter will not die because of contaminated water like the limp girl I cradled in a sweltering refugee camp in Amman. My children will not slowly starve because of tribalism, sectarian fighting, and policies created in plush offices oceans away.

But millions, millions of children will. Every, single, year. Millions of mothers and millions of fathers will watch their children writhe. Suffer. Starve. Silently, feverishly fade away.

I watched this and cried, remembering the little faces I have seen. The little hands I've held. The little, and big, bodies I've hugged. Knowing that there are thousands and thousands and thousands who die of preventable diseases, suffer from preventable disabilities, and face preventable starvation, mutilation, blindness, and pain....whom I will never know.

I cried. I cried because the pain and suffering is so real, so tangible...but it takes a movie like this, a class here and there, a UNICEF poster here, to remind us that people are literally dying of poverty. Lack of mosquito nets. Lack of $5 antibiotics. Lack of safe drinking water. Lack of a safe place to sleep at night. I cried because I am so, so, so privileged, so sheltered, so safe...and the disparity is so, so, so huge.

There is a scene where Mary begins receiving letters back from government officials about her grassroots campaign to fight against malaria. She's ecstatic, hopeful, naive and passionate....and she'll fight. Even just to save a single life. Prevent one child from meeting her son's fate. But her husband looks her in the eye and says "Save a life, lose a marriage." Bomb dropped.

And I cried anew. She faced the awful choice between advocating for a bigger cause, using her status as a white, American, woman to fight for those who have no privileged platform...or her marriage. And I cried. I cried because I gave up a man who didn't believe in me or my goals. Because I once looked a doubtful, unyielding man in the eye and chose mosquito nets and vaccines and un-named impoverished communities in un-named far-away places. And I cried because, deep down, I'm terrified of ever having to make that choice again. Is that a thing? Do you have to choose? Why? I cried over strong women in humanitarian aid and the reoccurring theme of unsupportive partners. Does that keep popping up because it's good narrative drama, or because it's a real problem?

And I laughed and cried at the power of two passionate women. It might be fiction, but it's powerful all the same. Two women, who'd seen enough pain and death, rallying to change one thing at a time. To solve one problem at a time. To tackle one obstacle and save one life at a time. It was beautiful.

And I was beaming. 

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