Monday, August 24, 2009

The Soloist, Human Suffering, and the Least

Last week The M and I watched "The Soloist" with Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr.. I was moved by the story. The acting was also good, and the photography, especially the aerial photography, was beautiful. The M and I recommend it for adults. It stirred me up to the point that I couldn't get to sleep afterwards. My mind was racing with thoughts about what we, people that want to help, can really do to diminish human suffering. And of course, this is more than an academic question for me, since I am neck-deep in using technologies and business ideas to try to help people help themselves out of poverty.

The movie is the true story of a gifted cellist from a poor African-American family in the 60's who develops schizophrenia during his second year studying music at Julliard. His disease goes undiagnosed and untreated for decades until we meet him as a homeless street musician in present day Los Angeles. A columnist from the LA Times discovers his talent and decides to write a story about him. As the film develops, they become friends, and the reporter attempts to help him by getting him an apartment, a new cello, contacting his family, and so on. I won't tell you how it ends.

Although I really liked the movie, but it left me feeling discouraged. The questions it raised made me feel like attempts to help people, in the end, don't really help. But now, after a little more time has passed, and my antidepressant prescription has been refilled, I have better perspective. I remember that I have felt that way before. I recognized the emotion as something I experienced in 2005 visiting the Kibera slum in Kenya.

Kibera is a slum by any sense of the word. Nearly a million people live there on 600-700 acres. Their 10 foot by 10 foot homes have no water, or sanitation, or (usually) electricity. When I first visited it, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that I could never make a measurable difference here. I could spend a fortune, a career, or a lifetime working here and it would hardly make a difference - the problem was so immense.

I told one of my African co-workers how I felt, and he reminded me that if I can help even one person, I have done something significant. I was reminded of the words of Jesus when he said "I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me."

So Jesus isn't asking me to change the world. He isn't asking me to fix Kibera, or even a schizophrenic cellist living on the streets. Perhaps, and this is deep, He isn't even asking me to fix myself. He is asking me to walk with Him one step at a time, and sometimes to do something, perhaps something small, for even the least of His people, and when I do this I am loving Him. When I do this I am resonating with the heart of the Creator of the universe, a heart of compassion and love. When I do this I worship.


Anonymous said...

wow, and amen.

Rishi Sriram said...

What a great, beautiful, and meaningful post. Thank you.

The thought of Jesus not even asking me to fix me...not that is something to think about.