Thursday, August 23, 2007


I was driving back from a couple of hours of watching 13-week-old eagles when I heard about the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. My first thought as a former Midwesterner was the wellbeing of my friends and their children who live there. My next thought was we are neglecting our country’s infrastructure while we bomb and then rebuild a country elsewhere. And then I thought of something I wouldn’t have thought of just a few months ago.

I thought of a section of Bill Gates’ 2007 commencement address at Harvard. He said in part, “I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world – the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair… It took me decades to find out…
When an airplane crashes, officials immediately call a press conference. They promise to investigate, determine the cause, and prevent similar crashes in the future.
But if the officials were brutally honest, they would say, ‘Of all the people in the world who died today from preventable causes, one half of one percent of them were on this plane. We’re determined to do everything possible to solve the problem that took the lives of the one half of one percent.’
The bigger problem is not the plane crash, but the millions of preventable deaths.”

I realized that in a very real sense, the bridge of life collapses every day for people all over the world dying of hunger, dying of preventable diseases, dying of war.

Gates goes on to give hope: “We don’t read much about these [millions of preventable] deaths. The media covers what’s new—and millions of people dying is nothing new…It’s hard to look at suffering if the situation is so complex that we don’t know how to help. And so we look away.
If we can really see a problem, which is the first step, we come to the second step: cutting through the complexity to find a solution…Yes, inequity has been with us forever, but the new tools we have to cut through complexity have not been with us forever. They are new—they can help us make the most of our caring—and that’s why the future can be different from the past.”

I thought of people in my community who are helping other people every day. There are those people I know and many more I don’t know. One friend is working to help homeless families. Another friend visits women in prison and cares for grandchildren while their mother undergoes cancer treatment. Still another loans money to people through a program call Kiva. Many contribute time and money to Habitat for Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, The Nature Conservancy, and other charities. Still others help neighbors in need. Gates emphasized we simply see a need and focus on it, even if it’s just a few hours a week.

So how do I help? What can I do? The bridge of life is collapsing all over the world. I can join people who are part of the solution. It’s one way to work on my own spiritual infrastructure.
©August 2007
If you’d like to read the entire commencement address, go to:

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