Monday, 29 October 2007

Trying to Look at Poverty/Disease

I had planned to post this entry
on Monday night, but the computer-powers-that-be would not co-operate. I kept getting error messages every time I tried to do anything. So, I just considered it good training in patience and finally realized that I wouldn't be publishing this until Tuesday probably!

Anyway, I wanted to talk about the difficulty I have in looking at poverty and disease and all the things that seem to go with it. And I want to illustrate my words with a few drawings of mine.

The first two drawings are new ones. The one at the top of the column is entitled "Early Morning and Hard at Work". This drawing was done from a photo of a child labourer in India. A very timely topic especially if you shop at The Gap. As usual, however, as I worked on this drawing, I ended up making the child look much cleaner and neater than he did in the actual photograph. I then asked myself "why do I need to do that? why can't I just draw what is in front of me?" The answer is simply that I cannot tolerate leaving a child in such suffering even if all I am doing is changing the image in a drawing. Whenever I try to leave all the evidence of the poverty and pain in my drawing, I find I usually do not finish the work or else I eventually go back and change it anyway! You may recall the drawing I posted some weeks ago of a woman from the Congo who had been raped repeatedly and tortured. I had tried to leave the pain in her eyes and as a consequence, I never finished the drawing.

This next new drawing is entitled "Save the Children" and shows a young Canadian who was part of a group from Canada in Africa for the purpose of helping poor African children -- the younger boy on his shoulders is one of the children they had gone to help.

In the actual photograph, the African boy's face was covered in either some sort of heavy discharge or burn scars (I could not tell which from the photo). In any case, I couldn't stand to look at his face and so you can see what I did. I gave him clean, smooth skin. With a few strokes of the mouse, I wiped away all the signs of disease and/or scars and gave him a face that was easy for ME to look at. Also in the original photo, there was part of what appeared to be a tin-roofed shack in the background along with several more needy-looking children. I ended up putting a nice lake and green bushes in the background which made ME feel much better!

I know I keep coming back to Mother Teresa, but this was always what amazed me about her and her sisters: they could lovingly pick up human beings in the most disgusting states of putrefication, decay and filth -- many already being eaten by maggots they were so close to death -- and wash them and clothe them and see in them the face of Christ. I can't even tolerate seeing poverty and sickness in a photograph without turning away in disgust. May God have mercy upon me.

This next drawing is one I have shown you previously entitled "Blessed Are The Simple". As you may recall, this drawing was made from a photograph of a developmentally-challenged girl in Cuba. In the photo, the look on her face was more disturbing than it is in my drawing -- of course.

This is another thing I find difficult -- looking at people who are so terribly wounded. I live in a neighbourhood where there is a great deal of housing for people who require full-time care. I see them almost every day when I am out and they are being taken for an outing by their caregivers. Over the years I have worked at training myself not to look away but to try to make eye contact and smile at them. I love to listen to Jean Vanier talk about these wounded ones who really have so much to teach us if we will just learn to listen with our hearts rather than with our fears and preconceptions. Just today I was in the dollar store when a whole group of disabled kids came in, each with his or her caregiver. The caregivers were buying some simple Halloween decorations and the young people were delighted by all the bright colours. Several of them were constantly smacking their lips and blowing bubbles of their own saliva. I could feel a frown of disgust forming on my face before I quickly asked myself: "Sallie, when a young child does this, you think it is cute -- these teenagers are only young children in their minds, so why are you expecting them to behave differently. They are happy and enjoying themselves. Be grateful." And so I was -- but that wasn't my automatic reaction. Maybe when I get to be 90 I will have become a bit more like Mother Teresa!

The final drawing tonight is of a child of poverty somewhere in South America -- a street child. In this drawing, I was really trying to be faithful to the photograph that I was working from: the child was dirty, her hair was unwashed and she looked frightened almost like a trapped, wild animal.

Because I refused to allow myself to clean her up anymore than I already had, I found I couldn't finish it. Finally, when I caught myself actually removing the dirt I had drawn on her face, I decided to stop and I have never gone back to complete it. I don't even have a title for it -- it was listed as "poor little girl/DRAFT".

One day recently when I was thinking about how much more attractive the scenery around me is when there is nothing in it deformed, disfigured, dirty, etc., it suddenly occurred to me: Wait a minute, maybe people don't like to see me and my wheelchair in the scenery around them! That gave me a bit of a shock. I mean, after all, I am a lady in a wheelchair. While I may not look too frightening, I certainly remind other people of their own vulnerability -- how easy it is for anyone to end up where I am right now.

I am reminded of the song from the 70's by Fr. Bob Dufford: "Be Not Afraid":

"Blessed are your poor, for the kingdom shall be theirs. Blest are you that weep and mourn for one day you shall laugh. And if the wicked insult and hate you all because of me, blessed, blessed are you! Refrain-- Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest."

1 comment:

Riva said...

Keep up the good work.