Several of them, actually, and they’re pretty serious questions. She’d like someone to please answer them, and I’m not sure I can.
She’s not trying to be disrespectful, she assures me. And she’s of course very happy for the miners that have just emerged from a half mile under the ground, into the middle of a reality television series waiting to happen.
However, she says that in school she just learned that somewhere on Earth, a child dies of starvation every ten seconds or so. Kids who aren’t trapped anywhere underground, kids you don’t need a drill to get to.
“Why does something so dramatic have to happen to you,” she wants to know, “before the whole world suddenly points cameras at you and does something about it?”
Well, in this case, I tell her, the point was that it was such a miracle they were even alive to save in the first place.
“Miracle? Everybody’s a miracle,” she tells me. “You guys are telling me that none of the kids who starve to death every ten seconds are miraculous enough? They are too conveniently located to warrant a sandwich?”
I almost point out that it’s hard getting the food to the starving kids – but it doesn’t get a lot harder to reach than the guys we’ve been sending food to. She’s got the computer in front of her now, reading an article about it. She says they spent ten to twenty million dollars rescuing these guys.
“And I’m glad they did,” she insists. “I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have rescued them. But that’s what, three hundred thousand bucks a guy, right?”
Kind of worrying me with that line of thinking, despite her disclaimers. “Well, what’s the value of a human life, sweetheart,” I start explaining, and she makes a frustrated honking noise, like you do at the guy riding shotgun when he’s demonstrating clearly that he doesn’t know how to read a map.
“I just told you I’m glad they spent the money saving the miners, Dad.”
“Okay, well good. But to be fair to your point, the company that saved them really needed the PR. You notice you didn’t hear much about how many miners died, just how many lived. That’s called ‘Public Relations.’ No doubt someone was in charge of managing that perception, you know what I mean?”
Way smarter than me – she knows what I mean.
“Okay, so I get why the company paid the money, and that makes it even worse. They did it because they had to,” she says. “But what I don’t get is how the whole world is joining hands in prayer and singing about miracle butterflies and guardian angels.”
“Why are we going to congratulate ourselves now, and turn the cameras off? Why aren’t we now turning the cameras on the starving children, and getting all choked up talking about Hope?”
“Because for the same amount of money, we could save how many thousand starving children?”
“You want them to leave the miners down there and save kids instead?”
“No. I want them to get the miners out – because they have to, anyway – and then start saving kids and thinking, man, this is awesome cause it doesn’t cost three hundred thousand bucks to save these little girls and boys. We’re saving them for like a hundred bucks each.”
“I don’t think we can save everybody.”
“That’s not what we told the miners. We said, don’t worry, we can feed you guys a half mile underground while we dig a shaft down to get you, bring you up where the food is.”
“So why are there so many people on the surface of the world who need packages of food and medicine sent to them, and why don’t we do it?”
“We do it. We send a lot of food and whatnot to, you know, places like that…”
“Oh, yeah – we’re great. We’ve got the average all the way down to one death every ten seconds. It’s a good thing we work so hard on that so it’s not one every five.”
“I’ll bet that as a country, we spend enough money on McDonalds every year to feed every single kid in the world for a month. You know how you’re always telling us, look, we’ll go to the store and make the same dinner for half the price and it won’t be garbage like we’d get at McDonalds?”
“Yes. I know because I’m the one who says it.”
“Well, what if everyone in the whole country who was heading to McDonalds stopped, went to the store, and then sent the other half of the money they were about to spend to feed hungry kids?”
“That’d be a lot of money, and about a thousand jerks would run off with most of it like ants at a picnic.”
“Why didn’t anyone steal the miners’ food before they sent it down there?”
“I guess because everyone in the world was watching.”
She stares me down, a flat, angry, disappointed stare. A troubling thing to see on such a young face, this complete outrage at the rest of humanity. She says, “Isn’t that the problem? If people cared as much about starving children as they do about trapped miners, wouldn’t they find a way to watch their food, too?”
“What exactly do you want, Ellen?”
“I want everyone to shut up about hope and miracles and stop patting each other on the backs for all of our heroism and ingenuity, when so many kids are starving to death all around us you could fill up a Chilean mine with them every single week.”
“You know, you’re kind of cynical, Ellen – I don’t know where you got that. Thanks for ruining my day.”