Tuesday, July 31, 2012

From Afar

Today my mind and heart have placed themselves in India.  Indians have experienced, and many are still experiencing, the largest power outage in history, with 620 million people without power today.  Six hundred twenty million people.  That's about twice the U.S. population.  As I was listening to a report about it, I was both heartened and disheartened by one fact: power outages are not unusual in India.

I was heartened because it means that Indians are more prepared than, say, you and I are, to deal with outages.  Because power outages are common, Indians have some plans in place to deal with them, at least on a small scale. For example, many businesses have generators for such occasions.  Where I lived in Chatra, as well as in many of the other SCN convents I visited, the sisters have inverters, machines that essentially collect electrical power when it is on, so that the energy can be used later when the power is out.

However, small-scale preparedness doesn't help the train system, which has been paralyzed.  It doesn't help the hospitals without sufficient power.  It doesn't help those whose access to water relies on electrical power.  It doesn't help anyone who has to navigate city traffic, where driving speed is about that of walking through knee-deep mud even when the lights are functioning.  I can picture the cars inching forward, avoiding people, cows, the occasional monkey.  I can smell the exhaust in the humid air and feel it moving through my nose and settling into my lungs.  I can hear the car horns, oh, the car horns, whose cacophony makes me want to scream.  I can imagine all of these amplified by the loss of traffic lights that, when working, might introduce some semblance of order to the scene. Might.

The thought of going back to India has been roaming through my mind.  I've found the thought lingering in those places I found peace, grazing on the sustenance of the love I received.  It's been looking around at the places where maybe I also provided a scrap of peace for someone, a serving of love to another, and wondering if perhaps I could again be nourished and provide nourishment if I return.

But for all those nostalgic sentiments, which grip me stronger than the frustrations, I am glad I'm not in India today.  I can imagine the frustration I would feel if I were without power.  I can imagine it, because it was a daily reality while I was there.  What is sad is that I remember forgetting that other people face far more serious consequences of the outage than I ever did.  I was indignant when I was inconvenienced by a power outage, thinking first of what I might not accomplish; only later, if at all, did I think about how it might affect others.

I hadn't really ever considered that until today. Today, as I sit comfortably in an air-conditioned house, I feel empathy for the Indians without power. I feel frustrated on their behalf.  I wonder why the government hasn't invested more in their power grid.  I equally wonder why India doesn't make use of solar energy to alleviate stress on the power grid (that thought is not unique to India).  These are themes about which I have little knowledge.  Perhaps I need to learn more.

In the meantime I will pray for my Indian friends. I will let my mind and heart remain with them.  I will allow the distance between us to bring me closer to empathy, to pull me out of the self-absorption I might enter into if I were standing among them. 

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