Monday, September 04, 2006

Hidden Lives

I’ve read two books within the last few months that have talked about hidden lives. “My Life with the Saints” by James Martin, has a chapter discussing the largely unknown life of St. Joseph, one of the most revered saints. “Finding George Orwell in Burma” by Emma Larkin describes the repression and censorship in Burma that allow constant injustice to occur in secret.

I find the lives of the poor in Haiti to be hidden from modern view. Oh, the media occasionally punctuates its free flowing, hip, upper class, western narrative with pictures of famine and war victims, refugees and AIDS orphans. But they appear as an exception, rather than the rule, when in life the opposite is true. And the coverage is thin; we only get a snapshot. What are these people’s lives really like? What are their dreams? What are their gifts? What do they contribute to their families and communities? What will they tell you they need for life to be better? What are their personalities like? What makes them laugh?

When a mother and child sit in front of John at the clinic, I wonder what their home is like; what they will do the rest of the day after they leave; what does the mother think about her status as one of the poorest people in the western hemisphere? Does she wonder why people don’t do more to help or just accept that this is the way it is? Who knows about her and her suffering?

We are very familiar with a three-year-old Haitian boy, whose first year of his life is a secret to us, as it soon will be to him, buried in the deep chambers of his memory. We will wonder about this hidden year all of our lives.

To paraphrase Henri Nouwen, poor people may be hidden from the world but they are visible to God. Important things are often hidden. We know very little about the life of St. Joseph or even the first 30 years of Jesus’s life. While the developed world lacks the will to “find” the hidden people of the developing world, most of us want others to know of our good deeds. Jesus said to do good and pray in secret. We have it backwards.

There are those people who are determined to record the secrets that everyone should know, sometimes at great risk to themselves. Emma Larkin writes of such people in Burma. “One friend of mine spent hours each day in front of a run-down computer recording the day’s events as he heard them through the grapevine. ‘I have to do this,’ he said. ‘Nothing is reported in the official news here, so, if I do not write these things down, tomorrow they will be forgotten.’ I also met a historian who is busy compiling a modern history of Shan State in eastern Burma. It is a history of the military occupation of the Shan lands by this government, he explained. ‘I know it will not be published, but I must write it. I must make a record. Then at least it is there, and maybe one day . . .”

I hope this blog reveals some of these hidden people to you, not completely, but at least you will know they exist and a little of what their lives are like.

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