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The Living Who Remain

April 2, 2012

Don and I both read the The Woman in White (1860) by Wilkie Collins and liked it. That was a long time ago. Recently, I read another one of his mysteries—The Dead Secret (1857). It was not as good as The Woman in White, but I was engrossed in it. Deep into night, as I was closing in on the end of the book, the following drew my eyes.

No popular saying is more commonly accepted than the maxim which asserts that Time is the great consoler; and, probably no popular saying more imperfectly expresses the truth. The work that we must do, the responsibilities that we must undertake, the example that we must set to others—these are the great consolers, these apply the first remedies to the malady of grief. . . . Time may claim many victories, but not the victory over grief. The great consolation for the loss of the dead who are gone is to be found in the great necessity of thinking of the living who remain.

Living in the absence of Don’s physical presence longer than three years, I confirm myself to be a non-believer in the time-healing maxim. I have been also proving Collins’s “remedies to the malady of grief” to be true. For my survival, I made work dominate almost every day of my life. So I was heartened to discover these surprisingly resonant remarks about grief, time and truth by the 19th century master mystery writer.

More than anything else, I was struck by the impact of the last sentence of the long passage. “The great consolation for the loss of the dead who are gone is to be found in the great necessity of thinking of the living who remain.”

Who are the living that remain for me? I ask myself. The answer comes instantly: starving children of the world.

The huge eyes, the bloated bellies, legs like thin sticks, the small bodies shrunk to skin and bones haunt me and put me in shame every day that I have food to eat and they don’t.

I recall Don’s story about the starving children in Armenia. As a little boy, he had to scrape every morsel from his plate as his mother ordered him not to leave any food, always admonishing, “Think of the starving children in Armenia!”  Don often wondered about the wisdom of his mother’s insistence, especially the part about the starving children in Armenia. Gradually, he began to see that perhaps his mother simply wanted to teach him not to waste food when some children starve. But he continued to question how his forcing food into his full stomach helped children starving far away. How would his stomach ache brought on by overeating help those children?

Don and I talked about his mother’s “starving children in Armenia.” Granted, she might not have been as far-sighted as we made her out to be, but we admired her for linking Armenia and Iowa. Don also had to hear my stories about the Korean War and how I learned what it was like to be hungry. Ever since, how I’ve wanted to do something  to feed the hungry, especially the children.

We sit in America, frequently with more food on our plates than we can (or should) possibly consume, when so many children in Armenia, Sudan, Congo, Indonesia, Mexico–and right here in the States–suffer malnutrition and may starve to death. I sometimes fancy Don’s mother’s response if he asked for more,  “Don, you had enough. Let us think of the starving children in Armenia. Let us save your second helping and send them some food.”

Yes, I want to do something for the living who remain.


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  1. Jon Oh permalink

    I have no doubt that you will. And are.

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog. God bless!
    It was the first time hearing think of the starving children meant something to me. My mom use to say that to me too but hearing it now makes me actually remember to think of the starving children and send blessings out to them. Thank you, an aha moment can be found anywhere even when it’s not expected.

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  1. Charities act to feed ‘starving’ in Britain « This Day – One Day

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