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Starting Point

Called to do more than just show up


Hardball” has been the No. 1 movie at the box office two weeks in a row. I’ve been wondering why. It’s a movie about a guy helping kids put together a baseball team. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but turns out to be a tearjerker, about kids struggling to grow up in an inner-city life. So why No. 1? Is it that nothing else is out there?

I think in this time of turmoil people are lining up for “Hardball” -- willing to lay down nine bucks and two hours of their lives -- to see something inspirational. And, given what’s going on, that’s understandable. But perhaps those people are like the rich man in the parable who walks by the poor and suffering Lazarus. They walk into a theatre to watch actors pretend to live in the inner city, and they walk out feeling better about themselves for seeing the movie. And they never even see that sitting near the door are real kids who struggle with lives filled with poverty and violence.

So what I want to know is when are we going to give nine bucks and two hours of our lives to be the inspiration. Not just in a moment of national crisis, but day in and day out. The opportunity to be a hero to someone -- the opportunity to change someone’s life -- is always there for the taking.

The big message at the end of “Hardball” is that all you need to do to win in life is just to show up. In fact, our nation’s leaders have said that’s what we need to do to combat the evil of the past two weeks. Just keep showing up. Go to work. Go to the movies. Go to the mall and use your Visa card and keep our economy moving. They also serve who shop and buy.

But that’s not what we are called to do as Christians. We are called to do more than just show up.

For the sake of our economy, our nation’s leaders exhort us to return to life as normal. For the sake of our foreign policy, our nation’s leaders exhort us that we live in a different world and therefore we must be prepared to make sacrifices and gird ourselves for war.

What shall we do for goodness’ sake? How can we ever return to normal if we have truly come to grips with the fact that compassion and selflessness are worth more than profits and spreadsheets, that we must make time for each other in our lives, that spirituality and faith, in God and in one another, are the structures that will sustain us?

As with so many others around the globe, my heart, my prayers, my checkbook, all have gone out to those who have suffered so tremendously in the past weeks. My spirit has soared over the sadness of the events to see churches, halls and public streets filled with people holding candles -- and more important, each other. I’ve smiled as I’ve watched children break their piggy banks to give to the Red Cross while shopkeepers and restaurant owners give their goods and proceeds to charities. I’ve looked on in wonder as cars everywhere in Los Angeles now have flags stuck in their windows. Why, there are almost as many American flags now as there were Los Angeles Laker championship pennants in car windows a few months ago.

But as much as I’ve been filled with hope and awe at the nation’s outpouring of compassion and generosity, there is a gnawing fear in my heart. Not that there will be another terrorist attack. I’m deeply afraid that we will heed the call of our leaders and return to life as normal just as they have asked. I’m afraid we will return to the belief that all we need to do is to show up. I’m afraid that we will grow weary of charity benefits and giving and selfless acts of heroism and go back to making celebrities out of models. I’m equally afraid that our real heroes will become mere celebrities. I’m afraid that we will agree that the world is different and now we must go to war because somehow we are willing to accept that a different world must be one filled with more violence and not less. I’m truly terrified that we may once again return to stepping over the poor, the needy, the struggling in order to resume our normal lives.

Last night, just two weeks after the World Trade Center catastrophe, the lead on the 11 o’clock news wasn’t about the heroes and survivors of the tragedy: The lead story was that a cast member from the TV show “Survivor” was injured in a plane crash. While I’m sorry he or she was injured, the story of thousands of survivors being replaced with a Survivor was one of the most depressing things I’ve seen on the news yet. I guess things are getting back to normal after all.

Ashley Merryman is a writer and lawyer in Los Angeles.

National Catholic Reporter, October 5, 2001