Sometimes headlines come out of nowhere, smack me in the face and strip my soul bare. It happened recently with two stories.
One story was about “kiddie couture” with Gucci becoming the latest designer making thousand dollar clothes for children under 12. The second was Zimbabwe Finance Minister Tendai Biti banning the charity donations of “second-hand underwear.” On the one hand, any underwear is better than no underwear. And on the other, who in the world would think a $2,000 coat for a 3-year-old is a good use of their money?
It gets harder to rationalize when something about both scenarios gives you that nagging feeling that what you are doing isn’t so much better.
This is a confession. I am a horrible shopaholic. I cannot resist the allure of sales and every time I need to go out of town, I have to buy new clothes. Well, I don’t have to buy them, as you would see if you peeked into my closets and clothes drawers.
I have been to Zimbabwe three times. Naked children or a child wearing the thinnest shreds of clothing is not unusual. I have seen a lot more of the poverty in this world than extravagantly-dressed three-year-olds with $2,000 coats. Those two stories sent me off into a spiral of memories. Why does it take extremes to move me from sympathy to empathy?
I understand that second-hand clothes could be humiliating and thoughtless. But I have so many sad experiences. I've looked into the eyes of children in Uganda at a displaced persons camp who had no clothes or clothes so tattered that they're ready to fall off their bodies.
I remember the children in the huge, stinking garbage heap in Manilla-- especially a little girl in a ragged grey dress several sizes too big for her who stared at me as I pointed my camera at her. I can still feel the tug on my pants from a toddler wandering in the wreckage of a church in Haiti, silently holding out a small hand asking for help from someone clearly better off than he was.
Once these pictures are there you really can’t do much to escape them. I keep them in my heart and let them influence how I see the world. There are as many ways of being kind and generous as there are people in the world who need kindness and generosity.
I have seen the people of The United Methodist Church in all those places. I know they are in places I will never see. I know the people behind the United Methodist Committee on Relief. They get up every day, look into the abyss and finds ways to pull hands out.
Maybe second-hand clothing is not the best thing to give. I am hoping and praying that the next time I feel like rushing to the mall for a sale, I will remember that charity starts with gratitude and understanding how much I can do with those blessings before I swipe that debit card for another great "bargain" that I don't really need.
By Kathy Gilbert
Kathy is a writer for United Methodist News Service
More: What We Believe
Originally Posted: Jan 20, 2012