I finished this poem back in March 12th of ’98. That was shortly into the second year of my formal disability.
I had been frantically working… upwards of eighty hours a week… until I got sick. Then it all went away.
I felt in so many ways that I had failed. I had failed as a man. And I had failed as a father. I had committed my life to ministry. To serving those less fortunate. But I had failed them, too. I was broken…in body and mind.
It wasn’t until that moment that I realized that I had not truly understood the depth of tragedy that goes on around us continually. What’s more, I was afraid to know.
Empathy moves us to take pity on those less fortunate, but to actually feel what those afflicted feel… well, that’s a different thing.
* * * * * * * *
Specters pass without a sound; A vaguely nebulous mass.
From the corner of my eye, I sense Their presence. Without turning, I let them pass.
If I don’t acknowledge them, if my efforts graciously conserved,
My world would suffer not; This fragile realm preserved.
Translucent to the popular ones; So easy to ignore.
To intervene would cause discomfort. I quietly close the door.
Their needs go on so why should I care. Like a tick, they’d suck me dry.
My response ends with the evening news. I shake my head, and maybe, sigh.
The poor – always with us – so the Bible states. God helps those who help themselves.
They’re on their own outside the gates.
The world is made for the beautiful ones; The rich, the smart, the sly.
There’s no room for the invisible ones. Perhaps they just should die.
We succeed by our own will; We persevere by our own might.
The weak, the sick, the aged ones, Are best kept out of sight.
What need have I of them. Don’t preach their burden share!
What profit I, by helping them; Why should I dare to care?
What would others think of me; Reaching out to those soiled by pain?
Surely they’d think a fool of me; What could I possibly stand to gain?
When those we know should fall away; When ill fortune raises it’s ugly head,
We scatter like bugs disturbed by light; Good conscious replaced by dread.
My life’s too full for selfless affection. I must look out for number one.
I shut out compassion and pity and care; I turn my back and begin to run.
Suddenly, all around me, they materialize Before my dread.
Their presence overtakes me. I hear their murmurs, though nothing’s said.
I feel the pain caused by neglect; The despair of hopeless existence.
Their thoughts – now my own; death’s savor – squelched only by life’s persistence.
As if awakened to a nightmare, But the nightmare persists, and yet,
Empathy rises and something more… Could it possibly be regret?
I see loneliness and degradation, but, I see humanity still.
A scarred and broken vessel… That only love can fill.
Like mirrors all around me… Their eyes reflect the truth I shun.
I see myself before me,
I, too, could be an invisible one.