Elie Wiesel, who translated darkness into words in his Holocaust memoir Night, once said, "The opposite of love is not hate; it's indifference." You have heard of the many who stood by, hungry for their own personal security, as millions of innocents shuffled helplessly into gas chambers. Wiesel mentions some of them in his book. He recalls marching with his fellow breathing corpses through German towns, watching the Nazi soldiers flirt with the girls who lived there, knowing those citizens witnessed injustice and stood by without a word. Silence can murder.
Surely in this modern era, in the most prosperous country in the history of the world, we cannot be capable of such atrocities. Surely not.
Stroller wheels spin as I march into the mall on a mission. "Just two stores." I reassure my boys we won't be long. But a panicked face meets my eyes beside the 25% off jeans. "Dominic!" she calls. Silence. "Are you OK?" I ask. "I can't find my son. He was just here. Dominic!" I and one other lady sift through clothes racks straining for a glimpse of a yellow shirt. We call security.
A store full of consumers stare as they stand in line at the register and decide which color tank top they must have. "What's wrong with you?" I want to scream. "This is a little boy! He's lost. Why are you just standing there? Help this mother! Can't you see the terror in her eyes?" But my dry throat and my own cowardice can't mouth the words.
I scan the kiosks outside the store. Maybe someone saw him. I ask each kiosk worker, "Have you seen a little boy. He's five, this tall, wearing a yellow shirt." Nonchalant answers return to me as one worker paints her nails and another finishes his sandwich. "This is a person! Put yourself in this mother's shoes," my soul screams out, but I move on and search the food court, where I meet a security guard slowly strolling towards the frantic mother. "Do you know there's a lost child?" I ask. "Yeah, we found him," she carelessly replies. They found him near the carousel. Tears flow freely from the mother's face now that the crisis has passed.
But the crisis of self-centeredness is rampant, attacking one heart after another, leaving its victims cold and indifferent. It is not enough to simply not do bad stuff. Avoiding harming others is not enough. It is passive. We must act, and we must act in love. What can we do, what can I do, to avoid letting our lives be just about gaining security and peace for myself? How can I make sure I am constantly aware of others' needs, of others' hurts, of our world's injustices? And what am I going to do about it?