by Cheryl L. Rice

Every morning this past week I’ve been faced with a dilemma when reading the news. Maybe you have, too. You see, my awareness of the drought and subsequent famine that has hit the southern region of Africa came just as heat wave number five descended in Philly. The heat wave is turning local lawns yellow, cancelling outdoor activities and forcing most of us to stay inside. The drought in Africa is forcing families to leave their homes and walk 50 miles to a relief center in hopes of finding food.

Safe and cool in my air-conditioned home I run the sprinkler through my garden since nobody has placed water or energy restrictions on my family. When I am thirsty I go to my refrigerator – the one with an automatic ice maker – hit “crushed” or “cubed,” and pour some filtered water. When I am hungry, I go to the same refrigerator that is stocked with groceries – some of which will have to be thrown out, as my family will not get around to eating them all. I do not have to risk my life to save my life by walking 50 miles in the desert for food.

Last week, the Inquirer published a photo of a starving Somalian boy, too weak to even cry or swallow, staring into twilight. It distressed me knowing while the drought is a natural disaster, the famine is a man-made disaster made all the more hideous by the blockage of food and aid workers by rebel troops.

What can I do? I have given money to two different aid organizations. I urged newspapers to give this tragedy more attention. Yet still I am haunted by the starving boy.

Some mornings I tell myself I am not going to read the section of the paper where the story might be covered. I’ll skip to the sports section to learn the Phillies’ chances of getting a right-handed batter before the trade deadline. Or maybe jump to the magazine section to find a far-from-reality TV show to distract me from the emaciated boy with plaintive eyes.

Other days I ask myself what a haunting story like this has to do with me anyway. But then I push myself to find the part of the tragedy that lives in me, even on a small scale. And it doesn’t take long to realize that while I have never endured a 50-mile walk in the desert to find food, there have been times in my life I have felt starved of connection, meaning, and even hope. And times when I’ve felt lost in a desert – even of my own making – and in search of sustenance.

So I read this story, and want it covered, because I believe we are all connected – not just through wireless devices and Facebook pages – but through our common humanity. I read this story perhaps for the same reason it is written – to be moved not just to tears but to action. I read it because – and this is difficult to admit – knowing what is happening there, makes life here just a little easier to take – OK – a lot easier to take.

And last, I read this story because what would be even more intolerable, is if that little boy could see me, sitting in my air-conditioned home, with a glass of filtered water, and a full stomach, looking as otherworldly to him as he does to me, wondering why I didn’t do more.