My Secret for Today

This morning as I drive to work, I pass in front of a woman seated on the broken curb beside the four lane road.  She is always there.  Dressed shabby – a skirt and gifted t-shirt sporting American logos faded and worn, her head covered by a thin scarf – she waits for an act of charity or a flash of goodness in a barren land.   Resting in the dirt around her are all the accoutrement for her long day in the African sun; a worn towel, a chipped cup and some old green bowls.  In her lap sit her two little boys – twins – maybe nine months or a year old.  As I slow down for a donkey cart pulling a load of garbage – the public sanitation infrastructure here is terrible – I watch as she focuses her babies’ attention on the donkey.  She repeats the name of the animal in her local language slowly and deliberately for the benefit of her little boys.  Spellbound, they point with their tiny fingers at the animal with all the pure excitement that their little hearts can muster; giggling as they repeat back the difficult sounds to their mom.

The simplicity of their interaction was so profoundly familiar that I found myself holding my breath.  You see, I too have a little boy; and pointing and naming is second nature conversation with our diminutive people.  It is so exciting to introduce them to the world; watch them squeal in delight at the sight of a butterfly and run behind a lizard hoping somehow to catch it (as we silently hope they do not).  Experiencing with them the pride of mastering a new word; and calming their very real fear at the unknown that finds its reassurance in my arms.  It’s our children who make us human, after all.

As I reflect on this woman and her future – and that of her babies – I realize there is nothing I can say that does not sound trite; the stale regurgitation of countless brochures and infomercials.  The vapid compartmentalization of her problems varnished immediately by a thick veneer of politics – it makes us feel better.  Meaningless works like “inequality” and “opportunity”, “distribution” and “law” that are lobbed back and forth between the spokesmen of two opposing camps; who punch out at five to drink together of the ill-gotten gains of their fraud.

You see, today I want to share with you a secret.  Today, I’m tired.  Tired of the violence; of the pandering; of the manipulating and the stealing; and I’m tired of the poverty and suffering.  I’m tired of the television channels, the twitter and Facebook feeds that alternate the ceaseless waves of horrific violence with the trivial licentiousness of those we are told are our betters; juxtaposed against each other until we are unable to distinguish reality.  Even as I write this I realize it sounds corny and I move to delete the words to write instead about a bumble bee I saw flitting from flower to flower, giving my son such joy; when I am painfully reminded of the woman who is probably still on that piece of concrete by the side of the road.  It’s hotter now, and she’s probably looking for shade to protect her babies from the sun.  She’s wondering if they will sleep their nap despite the heat, and what she will feed them for dinner.  Do they have a home somewhere?  Is there a husband?  Is there a future?  I admit; I owe her the honor of these few lines, if nothing else.

And I despair a little bit – because although I know there are so many people out there who care, nothing seems to work.  We plan and we coordinate and we organize and we fund-raise.  We lobby, we redistribute and we weep.  And there she sits still; despite easy money, upward mobility and 3G connectivity.  A world that has lost its ability to see the path can no longer respond with steps.

And that too sounds hackneyed.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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2 Responses to My Secret for Today

  1. I often have similar feelings, Joel. That woman demonstrates the nobility of humanity and the universality of parenthood. At the same time I despair of the plight of our species, the disparity of wealth and poverty and the unwillingness of those of us that have to give some of that up so that those of us who do not can begin to become self-sufficient with dignity. Yes, we can, as individuals, make a difference to other individuals, but only on a temporary and ‘bandaid’ basis. Until we, as a species, have a change of heart and mind, and see the ‘other’ as a mirror of ourselves these things will not change.


  2. ianmathie says:

    At least you don’t ignore or give up, Joel. You stay and try to do something, however ineffectual you may sometimes feel it is. I think all of us who have worked in the aid and relief field, in whatever capacity, feel as you do sometimes. It’s the ones who keep going despite this despair, that make a difference; the ones who really care. That difference may not affect your woman directly, or her sons, but it might just contribute somewhere to them and others like them having a future to look forward to. That is worth the effort, and the fact that you care, eases the process slightly.


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