By Tom Demerly.
The little girl looked like she staggered off the page of a United Nations poster. She was maybe 9, maybe 50 pounds. Black skin was rent by wrinkles baked from the merciless dryness. Her cracked lips hung below a dry mouth left slack from exhaustion and the inertia of an impending slow death. Life expectancy here is the lowest in the world. A healthy male lives to 45. Infant mortality is the highest.
We sorted through our snacks and handed her brightly colored candy that contrasted absurdly with the skin of her dusty black, emaciated hand. She took the few morsels and I wondered how she would get them down her tiny, dry throat or if what teeth she had left would break trying to eat them.
What happened next was a life lesson I will never forget, and it changed my perspective on humanity.
Seeing she had a few precious calories that may buy more desperate hours on this earth, boys twice and three times her size set upon her. They ignored our presence, knocking her to the ground, scattering the candy. They fought over it like darting fish to bait crumbs. In only seconds the candies were gone, picked from the dusty ground by the swirling horde.
And the girl lay there. But the worst was yet to come. What happened then was shocking and sad.
A normal child in this circumstance would cry and wail. But this girl had neither the energy for a tantrum or the moisture for tears. Even worse, she was so accustomed to living at the bottom of the food chain this was her normal. She slowly pushed herself up, stood on shaky legs, gave us a hollow stare and walked away. Nothing.
Welcome to the rest of the world.
That our society includes a large population who regard military service as obscene, outdated, unnecessary or barbaric is a testimony to its success. Our military provides a curtain of safety so impermeable we have an entire population who has never known fear, oppression, hunger or terror. They live in a bubble of humanity and compassion so complete they are oblivious to the dark side of human nature. The frail walls of that bubble are protected and maintained by a minority of our population who make the commitment to serve our military. Make no mistake, without them our lives would be very different. If you are naive enough to believe otherwise you do so by their grace.
So regardless of your political affiliation, your views; even though you can’t find Eritrea, Somalia, Chad or Congo on a map. Even though you think what is happening right now “over there” is none of our business, consider that you think that because you are well insulated from a reality you cannot conceive. And that someone worked hard to maintain that insulation from the rest of the world.
If you meet one of the people who maintain that insulation from a reality harsher than you can imagine and only a four-hour plane ride away, thank them.