January 25, 2010

A World Beyond the Hill

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Every day, we wake up after snoozing five times, rush out the door, hurry to our classes and zone out. We buy coffee to stay up but end up napping in the Fishbowl. We whine about the amount of work we have each day, yet waste most of our time on Facebook. We count down the days until the weekend, until the next great frat party, until we can finally drown our oh-so-terrible problems in alcohol — the next best thing in our lives on the Hill, really.

Now imagine yourself outside of Cornell. Imagine yourself in Haiti. Imagine in a day that everything was taken away from you—your home, your friends, your family. There wasn’t much to begin with, but it was all that that you knew and loved. Everything gone.

After reading Elizabeth Fox’s first hand account of the devastation in Haiti, I realized that we, as Cornell students, take everything for granted far too often. Why does it always take a tragedy for us to realize there’s more to life than just what we see on the Hill? Why must it take thousands of lives loss for us to feel the shaken and disturbed? And even when we do express our concern, whether through fundraisers or spreading awareness, why do we forget that there is, as Elizabeth described, “a world beyond the Hill.” ?

Even on a smaller scale, tragedies happen every single day. There is poverty all around us, but we’re simply too caught up in our own lives to realize it.

Over winter break, my friend and I went out to dinner in a local restaurant. We ordered more than we could eat, as always, and decided to take the leftovers home. It was cold that night. Even with gloves on, I couldn’t feel my fingers, and I couldn’t wait to get home and snuggle under my warm blankets. When we got into our car, a man knocked on the window and asked us to roll it down.

We exchanged frightened looks. Our first reaction was to bolt and drive away, but with a little hesitation, we decided to roll down the window to hear him out. But only a crack.

“Can we help you?” we asked cautiously.

He began to explain everything he had been through – how he didn’t have a place to stay that night, how he had asked everyone for some help, and how everyone had just chosen to ignore him. I cautiously peered over, as the man reached into his coat pocket. What was he doing? Is he going to hurt us?

Instead, he pulled out some identification papers and official documents that explained how he got into the situation he was in now.

“I understand how this comes off,” he explained. “But please, anything will do. I will just be sitting at the bench over there …”

We decided to give him some money. He thanked us, and we started to drive away. We both felt guilty that we were so reluctant to help him, and how our initial reaction was fear. Finally, we turned around and gave him all the food that we had left over from dinner.

“Oh, I couldn’t take that from you,” he said. “You’ve done enough for me tonight. Are you sure?”

We insisted that he take it, and he graciously thanked us.

“Good luck,” we said.

“You’ll be blessed for this. There should be more people like you in this world,” he told as we waved good-bye.

That night alone was enough to show me that every little bit counts.

When it comes down to it, we are all in this together. We are all humans, trying to survive the chaos that the world throws at us. Although the efforts in Haiti have proven that we do—every once in a while– think outside of our own lives, I can’t help but to wonder how long that will last. Did the devastation in Haiti shake us awake? Or do we need another tragedy for us to realize that our eyes need to see far beyond the Hill?

Original Author: Sandie Cheng