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A fine line in the snow in Virginia

February 6, 2010

I spent the past week just north of Lynchburg, Virginia. I shortened my visit to avoid the snow storm that has now begun in that region. For six hours yesterday and another five hours today I outpaced the storm – by driving northeast (of all directions) to my home.

As I drove farther and farther north, and now as I sit at my computer in my warm house, I can’t get my mind off the living conditions of some of the people of Virginia .

I saw great poverty. I saw shacks that I would have assumed were long abandoned, but for the puffs of smoke drifting out of the chimneys. One dilapidated shack with no windows had the clothing of the inhabitants hung, frozen, on lines strung across what might once have been a porch.

Six inches of snow had fallen last weekend on these homes, another few fell on Wednesday, and now perhaps more than two feet will fall. I believe some of the snow will accumulate inside the houses I saw.

A few times this week I nearly reached for my camera to try and capture how some of our fellow Americans live, into what homes some of our children are born, and from what house an elder’s soul might pass. Each time the thought came to me, I felt it would be an invasion of privacy, perhaps even exploitation, to use the image of someone’s home as an example of just how poor the living conditions are for some people in the United States. 

Since the early seventies, I’ve heard the term “viable” used when the abortion issue is discussed. “When is a life viable?” someone might ask, or “If a life is not viable, it is alright to terminate it,” another might say.

Through the years I’ve thought about human viability and I’ve come up with this.  Inside or outside a womb, a human life needs exact conditions to survive. Our life outside the womb is no less tenuous than when it’s inside, as it needs oxygen, water, food, shelter, and human touch to live and thrive. Without just one of those five things, a person will die. There is no point in a human life when viability is not a concern. It’s just that most of us don’t often have occasion to think about our viability, to consider the very thin line between life and death. Most of us have what we need to live, till the very end.

Tonight I’m concerned that the lives of the people in the homes I’m talking about are at risk – that their shelter may not protect them from the elements, that they may not be able to heat their homes and survive the cold, that they might be unable to get the food they need while they are stranded by the snow. This out-of-the-ordinary storm threatens their viability.

So tonight I hope and pray that the people in those homes have enough human touch to get through the next several days. I hope and pray that someone in their family or their community cares enough to invite them into their home or to bring them the supplies they’ll need to get by. I hope and pray that the love we are each capable of sharing has extended to the adults and children in those homes and that through our loving touch they live.

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