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Oceans Apart

Last night at dinner, I offered the prayer before the meal and happened to mention the situation of a potential epidemic in West Africa. Why wouldn't I pray for a solution. Ebola is a scary thing, and I knew it was risky mentioning it around tender ears of the young children who could hear me: ages 1, 6, 7, 10, and 11. It’s always the younger kids in a family who have to grow up fast, because they always hear things that the older kids can process better. It’s a delicate balance.

Anyway, when you sit down to enjoy a meal together, to be nourished in a safe place with people you love, it’s easy to forget the global situation. If you have appetite for it, you can keep in the back of your mind that other people, in other situations, have it really, really bad. I guess it was a humbling, sobering prayer, and my children certainly seemed a little somber as well as keenly interested as they asked a bunch of questions about Ebola. Would the disease come here? What happens to you when you get it? Should we be worried? As parents, my wife and I steered the conversation toward the whole idea that we all need to care. Care about people generally. Care a whole lot about this situation (as with any situation where we know people are suffering). Still, to put my children at some ease while also teaching something about compassion—and to keep the conversation “age-appropriate”—I was able to say that there’s a really big, protecting ocean that separates us from Africa, the Atlantic Ocean. Ebola probably won’t cross. Probably.

It seems to me that big oceans divide people more often in ways that are not strictly geographic. We leave oceans, abstractly, between our experience and the experience of others. I don’t need to think about Ebola—it’s a world away with an ocean in between. I don’t need to think about children left in hot cars who die of the heat. That’s somebody else’s world—with an ocean in between. I don’t need to think about the violence in Guatemala that is creating a crisis of refugees coming to the U.S. border. Mexico may as well be made of salt water—an ocean of a country situated between me and the violent, extortion-practicing gangs of Central America.

You see my point. Closing the distance is what we’re really about here on the Morning Show and on BYU Radio, whenever we go after important stories. Making the oceans smaller, not pouring in new ones to preserve immense difference between ourselves and others. For grown-ups, it’s actually age-inappropriate for us to be looking for bigger oceans, hoping for barriers, seeking for some illusion of distance from the sufferings of others.

Life is short and precarious for so many people. When I see my children around the dinner table, I think of children at the U.S. border, children in Sierra Leone who may contract Ebola, children in Gaza who are daily in harm’s way. The oceans need to be smaller between us and people who suffer. No man an island … everyone a piece of the continent, part of the main. Something to learn about. Something to pray about.

--Marcus Smith

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