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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Column: Break my heart

Sometimes we ask for really dumb things.

A week-and-a-half ago, the beginning of baseball season was right around the corner – and so was the real beginning of the term. An avalanche of assignments, readings, band gigs and a million other obligations were thundering down Mount Quarter System. But all I wanted was to watch baseball.

So, remembering all the times a cold had kept me home from high school and gave me the ability to appreciate Omar Vizquel’s exquisite double plays several days in a row, I made a foolhardy wish.

I wished to be sick.

Now, I’m hacking up a lung, cranky as all get-out every time I spill my tea, and don’t even have enough functioning brain cells to operate the freaking TV. Stupid Comcast and its newfangled technology. I’m not even sure I’m constructing real sentences. Carbuncle newton barbarism mutter.

It’s good to know I’m not the only one who asked for stupid things. There’s a new dumb request on the rise. Simply stated, it’s this: “I want to feel the suffering of others.”

Wait, what? You want to suffer? You want to subject yourself to unnecessary pain? You’re asking to hurt?

A quarter of a million people around the world over-asked for a dose of pain last Thursday. TOMS, a homegrown shoe company dedicated to providing poor kids with shoes, sponsored the third-annual One Day Without Shoes. It’s pretty much what it sounds like – you spend a day without shoes and begin to experience what life is like barefoot.

It’s not pretty. Yes, there’s the cuts and scrapes. But without bandages and antiseptic, wounds become infected and can kill. Parasites enter the body. Contact with volcanic soil causes elephantiasis, a mutilating swelling of the legs and genitals. If you manage to stay healthy, you can kiss an education and gainful employment goodbye – you can’t meet the dress code. This is the inescapable world of the poor.

Some participants saw the disparity between the daylong event and forced shoelessness.

“What was ‘fun’ for me was due only to good fortune. Sadly, for many, it’s a reality,” willowonthemoon posted on onedaywithoutshoes.com.

But others seemed to have missed the point entirely.

Poster Elizabeth Samson couldn’t get into her campus dining hall without shoes. She promptly dashed up to her dorm, slipped on her TOMS, and enjoyed a meal. So much for solidarity. At least her participation made her feel all warm and fuzzy inside: “It felt great to explain to people what the cause was…”

That’s right. We just made this about ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I think TOMS is a brilliant company. I wish more businesses had compassion at their core. One Day Without Shoes was designed to foster changed hearts leading to action. I’m sure many participants experienced just that. But it’s easy to consume social justice like another trendy product, designed to make us look and feel awesome.

Christians have a special version of the pain request. It’s called the “Oh God, break our hearts for the things that break Yours” prayer. I do it all the time, usually while making a face that indicates either extreme earnestness or lack of dietary fiber.

And God delivers. It might take a week, a few months or a year, but oh, He delivers. You want to know what it’s like to be intimately acquainted with every tear and every sorrow on the planet? Let’s start you off with a teaspoon.

Your parents divorce. Your friend starts self-destructing. You study abroad and are confronted with unrelenting poverty, day after day. You’re not just comfortably aware of the pain – it’s eating you alive. This is the point at which most of us clutch our sides and say, “Why, God, why? Why does it hurt so bad? Make it stop!” We ask to be wrecked, and then we’re pissed when it happens.

So why do we ask in the first place? Why do we make that dumb request?

Because when you know what it’s like to hurt as someone else hurts, you start caring about them. And you accept the cost of caring – whether it’s staying up late with a depressed friend, slogging through years of law school, giving up a chunk of your paycheck so some kids can have shoes or just hurting alongside someone.

I’ve probably made some of you mad. “Who is this anti-anti-shoelessness, Elizabeth-Samson-hating, heavily-Nyquil-influenced person?!” you may shout. I might have even made myself mad. That’s okay – as long as we both think about our real intentions the next time we board the social justice train.

By the way, the next stop on the line is 1000 Wells’ Two Weeks of Sacrifice event. I do hope you participate by giving up all beverages except water and donating the money you save to well-building efforts in Africa.

But even more, I hope you question why you’re doing it, and whether you’re prepared to accept the cost. It’s not an external repair the world is looking for – it’s a change of heart. Like Switchfoot sings, “If it doesn’t break your heart, it isn’t love/No, if it doesn’t break your heart, it’s not enough.”

BETH SEKISHIRO just got darn trendy with that lyric quote. To learn more about 1000 Wells, visit davis1000wells.org. To e-mail Beth your anti-anti-anti-shoelessness rants, reach her at blseki@ucdavis.edu.

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