It sounds like the beginning of a joke – “A priest, a Levite and a Samaritan were walking down the road when…”.
I read the parable this morning and nobly announced to God that I would never see someone in need and walk aby on the other side of the road. I didn’t get the pat on the head I was looking for. No brownie points were up for grabs.
“But you do it all the time,” said God. “You walk past people in need all the time.”
“When did I ever…?” I began.
“People lying on the pavement beaten up by bandits are in short supply, I’ll give you that, BUT what about the people sitting on the benches, head in hands, beaten up by life? You see them and you pass by.”
“What about when…?” I was about to reel off times and places when I had responded. Few and far between, they didn’t amount to the number of fingers on one hand.
It appeared that God had cast me in the role of either the priest or the Levite in the story but certainly not the Good Samaritan.
“The trouble with you,” said God, “Is that you just don’t see. You walk about with your eyes shut. You have your to-do list in your head and navigate from one shop to the next and you don’t see the people in need. The times you do see are times when you talk yourself out of helping. You think it’s not your business.”
“Can you help me to see?” I asked.
I was scrutinising all the benches in the High Street. Most people at the bottom end of the street were listening to a young boy, eight years old maybe, playing the bagpipes. It was the height of the tourist season and he had gathered a crowd. Toes were tapping and purses and wallets were open and money was tossed into the bagpipe case. He played “Flower of Scotland” and I wondered which Scottish athlete had just been awarded a Commonwealth medal. I couldn’t see anyone who looked as if life had beaten them up so I moved on.
Further down the street, towards the top end, the “Yes” campaigners had a stall with badges, stickers and all sorts of literature. We had met the “No” campaigners the previous week at a food and drink festival. Technically, I suppose, I could claim, now, that I had met a whole group of people, who felt truly beaten, not by life as such but, by the Westminster Government – the ConDems. They did not look like they needed my help so I moved on.
Austerity has left its mark on the High Street. The shops that once flourished have closed down and the windows have become poster displays for bands playing in different venues or artists on display in the local gallery.
One widow displayed a Palestinian flag and a dozen sheets with lists of names. There was a table, a group of people and a lot of pairs of shoes on the pavement. I asked about the shoes. For all the people on the list, those who had died in the Gaza over the week or two, they wanted a pair of shoes to match the age and gender. An artist was going to use the shoes in a sculpture.
I looked at the list. Every day since the conflict began had its own page and listed the names and ages of those who had died. There were old people, very old people, young people and very young people and all ages in between. And their names. Page after page. Name after name.
I’d seen something vaguely familiar – a list of dead people. The Jewish Quarter in Prague, in a synagogue. The names there were written on the walls of the building and included not just Jews but people from other races and religions that tried to help them – honoured gentiles.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” My husband and I talked about what we had seen over a cup of tea.
It is one thing to have a number in the newspaper – 500 or 600? And a comment noted by the American president that when the number hits 1,000 then they will do something. To see the names and ages of those 500 or 600 people is an entirely different matter. A name does something that a number doesn’t. When you know his name was Sulieman and he was 56 – you add the height and weight and eye colour and clothes with your imagination. The number becomes a person and a person who isn’t alive any longer who should be.
Not a man on the pavement beaten up by a robber. Not a woman on a park bench with her head in her hands beaten up by life – but a name on a list of 500 names, not beaten up but dead because someone launched a missile at their home. Perhaps there was a warning, like the Israeli army says. Perhaps there was a basement in a school with weapons in it. Perhaps there was a tunnel somewhere and a human shield of civilians.
I wanted to place someone in front of the list, someone in power, and get them to read the list of names and tell me why the government abstained when it came to voting for action.
Is a piece of land worth that much blood shed?
Are people not worth something no matter their religion or race?