The recent devastating earthquake in Haiti moved many people to action and to give a helping hand. I was one of them. I was deeply moved by the tragedy that killed hundreds of thousands in Haiti. So I joined my friends from the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation, a local group of Chinese Buddhists in the Chicago area that espoused the Buddhist teaching of giving unconditionally.
So on January 13, I joined my friends from Tzu Chi Foundation and we went to Chicago’ s Argyle St. neighborhood, a predominantly Southeast Asian community filled with Asian ethnic grocery stores, bakeries and noodle shops. We braved Chicago’s subfreezing winter weather and stood outside the grocery stores and noodle shops asking for donations from the predominantly Southeast Asian shoppers.
Will the shoppers give to a disaster that’s thousands of miles away from Asia? Will they find empathy and donate to Haitian earthquake victims? Or will they likely ignore us and find our community appeal in vain?
I was very surprised. Many of the shoppers gave and they gave generously.
So what’s a Filipino and a bunch of Chinese Americans doing outside in the cold asking for donations for Haiti in a predominantly Southeast Asian neighborhood? Charity knows no bounds.
Then we went to a nearby homeless shelter, People’s Church and we also asked for donations there. What? Asking donations from the homeless?
I was very surprised. The homeless also gave generously. In fact, a homeless woman gave her last quarter and donated it for the victims in Haiti. I was so touched by this act of charity; I cried. Charity knows no bounds.
I was so exhilarated by this experience that I felt that I saw the best in humanity. So I called my friend, Tony, who’s from Haiti and who’s married to my cousin. I asked him what he has done so far to help out his compatriots back in Haiti. The response I got was a cold silence.
I asked him the question again and he finally responded, “I left Haiti 25 years ago and I really don’t have any relatives there.” The silence on the phone was uncomfortable.
I was again surprised. I was shocked by my friend’s reaction that he really didn’t care.
I saw the two faces of Janus. The one face of boundless charity of Asian Americans giving to a disaster half a world away and homeless people donating their last quarter. The other face of someone who doesn’t really care.
I’m maybe a hopeless optimist but I am not giving up hope. I still believe that the better side of humanity – that charity knows no bounds.