I once saw a body on the street in Port-au-Prince. I had gone into town early to avoid the crush and the city was awakening to another sweltering tropical day. A corpse lay crumpled on the edge of a street corner, its position awkward and unnatural and disturbing. I knew at a glance the grotesque, filthy pile of limbs and rags would not stir to the breaking dawn. Someone did not make the voyage through the night. They had cast their garment to the curb and gone naked on some other journey to some undiscovered place. The grimy city moved along, unmoved.
I moved along too, unable, or perhaps unwilling, to comprehend. Like the others in the busy market, I shuffled around the carcass, avoided staring and thought someone should do something. I don’t know if I was self-righteous or afraid or confused. I only remember that I judged the calloused disregard of my fellow dawn companions. I wondered how they could have no care for the broken, abandoned man while I too picked a careful path around the offensive pile of decay. In my self-absorption, I could not see my hypocrisy.
Many years later I sat on the ghats of the Ganges in the ancient city of Varanasi and watched a bloated corpse drift silent along the bank. As dawn broke, soft in the morning fog, ritual bathers made their pujas and vowed their sacrifices to their gods. They ignored the body that coasted in the flotsam nearby.
I watched unmoved and later felt ashamed, not ashamed that I did nothing but ashamed over my lack of emotion. I felt no stirring for that discarded, neglected person, cast like rubbish into the Ganges. I wondered if a lifetime of wandering had anesthetized me to suffering and loss. I wondered if I had lost my sense of compassion. I wondered if perhaps I was overwhelmed, burned out.
I once thought, in arrogance, that I could change the world. I thought I could help people become better versions of themselves. But life has humbled me. I have found that some of my righteousness is self-constructed.
People are slow to change. I am slow to change. I struggle to change myself and to change the world is more difficult than I imagined in my youth. I cannot change them all, or help them all but I can influence a few. I can help a few. I can make a difference to a few. And I can hope that I may find a noble ending.