Shine On: What would it take for you to allow a child to suffer
The 1973 short story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, tells of a utopia complete with green fields, blue skies, shimmering buildings and happy people. But the city is built on a dark truth. In the bowels of the city, in the basement of a building, there exists a dark and dirty room. In the room is a child. The child is malnourished, naked, alone, afraid and miserable.
The story explains that all the happiness and prosperity of Omelas depends on the mistreatment of this one child. If this one miserable child was lifted up, taken out, shown any sort of compassion, then all the happiness and abundance would turn quickly to desolation. And all the people of Omelas know it. When the children of Omelas are ready – usually between 8- and 12-years-old – they are taken to see the child, and the paradox is explained to them.
I first read this story – as you could probably guess – in a college literature course. I still remember my professor asking the class, “What would it take for you to allow a child to suffer?”
October is Respect Life Month, a month devoted to calling our awareness to issues such as abortion, racism, assisted suicide, capital punishment, human cloning, conscience rights, disabilities, unethical fetal and embryo research, euthanasia, the morning-after pill, post-abortion healing, child violence and others.
That’s a long list of issues. And, in some sense, all of these issues go back to one question: What would it take for you to allow someone else to suffer?
For many, the vast majority of these issues remain philosophical. The issues are real, but not personal. The metaphorical rubber hits the road when it is your 16-year- old son who tells you he has conceived a child with his girlfriend. What happens when your career is in question because you will not use fetal stem-cells in your cancer research (an issue my wife faces frequently)?
Here, the example of St. Gianna Molla comes to mind. When faced with the reality that the best treatment for her cancer was the abortion of her child, she refused the recommended treatment. She was asked, “Would you die to prevent your child from suffering?” And her answer was, “Yes.”
This month, we are invited to shine a light on our commitment to and support for life issues – and that starts with really caring about them. By the grace of God, we hope many of these topics will remain impersonal, but we ask God to soften our hearts to those suffering, give us the empathy and compassion to internalize the impersonal and to passionately care for all matters of life.
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas ends with just a few quick sentences about children who leave the utopia, never to return, because they can’t abide the mistreatment of the child. It says that some men or women, who have lived with the truth for years, will one day get up, walk out of the golden gates of the city without a word, and never look back.
What are you willing to leave behind to truly, passionately respect life? Would you donate money? Endure ridicule? Leave a job? Change your politics? Volunteer your time?
What if this month you decided to pick one life issue and make a sacrifice to support it? Turn to God in prayer, ask Him to stir your heart, and shine a light where you can make a difference.
This article appeared in the October edition of The Catholic Telegraph. For your complimentary Subscription, click here.