Last night I sat in a Chinese restaurant in East Africa with a group of Californians while cable television beamed Michael Jackson's memorial service above us as we ate our Szechuan Beef. The Tanzanian waiters were attentive, though their real focus was on the screen. We munched our Spring Rolls as I pondered it all...
The memorial service and the entire giant "event" of Jackson's passing, felt both very close and very far. I return to LA every 2 years and I just drove past the Staples Center less than 3 weeks ago on my way to LAX for my flight back to Africa. I can easily imagine the buzzing helicopters overhead, the snarled freeway nightmare of traffic, the way all else seems to be on hold until LA decides to move on again.
But our group of 12 was out for dinner after a day of prep for some days in the wilderness. Byron, my husband, is leading them today into a remote area of Maasai-land on a reconnaissance trip, if you will, to visit different projects we are involved in. The team is on a journey of discovery regarding how they might build involvement in Africa.
Initially, we planned this time to include some interaction with the local church, the local primary school, a well-digging project we have going and a fair trade artisan group we work with. But the April/May rains failed in this area of the country and our friends in this community are now struggling for their lives. There is widespread hunger and the "f" word is now being used regularly. Oh, lest you think we're losing it, the f word in this case is "famine."
Famine. I hate that word. I hate what it does to my friends. I hate the demeaning, ugly reality of lack of food.
As I sat there passing the rice, (with way too much food on our table) I thought about those thousands and thousands of people gathered in LA to honor a celebrity. The service was a mild distraction for us. We star gazed with the rest of the world. "Mariah Carey!" "Queen Latifah!" "Oh... who is that.... Oh! Lionel Richie!" But our hearts weren't into it. At least for Byron and me, our hearts were heavy with the anticipation of what the group might find as they assess the extent of the famine and the plausibility of doing something appropriate, immediate and lasting in response. But the thousands, yea, millions, watching the service weren't thinking of famine. They were grieving a man.
And that's when it hit me...
The millions of people watching that service were totally unaware of famine in northern Tanzania, but they were experiencing famine just the same. The total distraction of millions of people by the death of one terrifically talented, if broken and hurting, man reveals a famine in hearts. There is an aching famine of hope; a powerfully destructive famine of meaning.
I didn't resent the attention given to the death of one man any longer. Instead, I grieved that there is so much devastating famine all around me.