Monday, April 27, 2015

The Quality of Mercy

A tornado recently tore through Northern Illinois, devastating the tiny town of Fairdale, Illinois, and killing two of the 150 citizens. Here in Rockford, where most of us feel being in a valley gives us total immunity from tornados, the emergency siren sounded three times, sending most of us to the basement. It wasn't until later in the evening that it was confirmed a tornado had touched down in several locations. By night's end we knew the damage was severe. At one point a dozen people were trapped in the basement of a tavern that had been wiped out.

In typical fashion the recovery effort began right away. Everyone seemed to want to help rebuild the tiny town of Fairdale. Donations flooded in. To the point where recovery organizers told people donations of almost everything but money was no longer necessary. And the people came to rebuild Fairdale. 

It is a heartwarming confirmation of the goodness of people and their willingness to help each other out in times of crisis.

So why am I playing the abrupt record needle scratching sound effect that would indicate that I'm not completely on board with the goodness and decency bandwagon?

I'll tell you why.

A WIFR story recently reported that there are 43 homeless veterans in the city of Rockford. There are approximately 20,000 children in the area going hungry. A lot of the time Rockford seems like it was hit by a tornado. Homeless people freezing to death in parking garages, legions of the disabled and mentally ill wandering streets after being turned out of shelters and treatment facilities, a heroin epidemic claiming lives at an alarming rate, and the third highest rate of violence in America. 

Makes one wonder why local residents were so willing to help victims in a small town most of them will never even drive through, but most have never volunteered or donated to a cause here in Rockford. 

Truckloads of supplies were filled to help the people of Fairdale. But when similar appeals are made by food pantries and social service agencies here in Rockford donations are hard to come by. 

Why? 

Instead of feeling the heartwarming confirmation of human goodness and decency the outpouring of generosity for the people of Fairdale has elicited in others, I'm left with a dose of the opposite reaction: if this type of effort can be mustered to help certain people in their time of need, why can't the helping hand be extended to so many others that need it desperately?

"The quality of mercy is not strained." I think I read that somewhere. One can't cajole others into caring about that which they are not inclined to care about, so one can only assume the refusal to show mercy for the less fortunate in  Rockford  speaks volumes about what certain people do and do not care about. After Fairdale has been restored to order, and all the volunteers go home feeling good about their good deeds, 43 veterans will still be homeless in Rockford every night, 20,000 children will go hungry, and no volunteers or truckloads of donations will arrive to change that.