The best way to describe "Baraka" is it pulls you through the human experience. Somehow the images, locations, and music draws every emotion out. Many times I smiled and many times I cried. It is a very beautiful experience.
BuggaBoo asked to watch it with us (his aunt and me), and I let him. Oh, boy, does he ever ask questions! There is no speaking so there was nothing to explain it to him except me, and explain I did.
Near the middle of the movie there begins to be depictions of poverty, starting with slums in Brazil, moving to families picking through a garbage dump to glean any useful thing, and then to the homeless living on the streets of wealthy cities. My sister and I were crying at this point and BuggaBoo was becoming very upset. He kept asking what the people were doing, and I told him that they were poor and didn't have any home to live in. He didn't quite understand what that meant, how having money connected with having a home, but he could feel the anguish of it.
He told me, "My throat hurts, it really hurts, what does that mean?" I replied, "My throat hurts when I am very sad and wanting to cry, it hurts for me right now. It's okay to cry, it's sad that these people don't have homes." He just started bawling. And it was hard for me to see my baby so sad about this, my instincts being that my child should not be inconvenienced with painful emotions. But I was proud of him. Proud that he was not cynical, that he could empathize with those in need and want. That he could understand the very basic fact that people are people and deserve basic needs.
Was it wrong of me to expose him to this specific reality? I don't think so. We live near Portland, Oregon. There are an estimated 20,000 homeless people in the state, most of them concentrated in Portland. It is easy to tune them out, to hurry by. It can become easy to disdain them, to rationalize that they caused their situation, "You made your bed now sleep in it."
How many Americans are one paycheck away from losing their home (Psst -- One survey puts it at one-third)? How many Americans are lacking in sufficient health insurance in case of major hospital bills or mental health issues? How many of us are on the edge?
And even if we're in a good place, why does that give us license to look down on those others? For those who are Christianly minded, I'm reminded of the Prodigal Son. You know, left home, squandered his inheritance, lost his home and his friends, and ended up eating pig slop. He went home to see if his father would accept him back as a servant, and instead his father accepted him back as a son. Who was the one chastised? The older brother, displaying his feelings by demanding why he hadn't had a fatted lamb killed for him. The subtext, in my mind, is, "Why are we helping him? He made his own troubles."
For those that are Mormonly minded, I'm going to turn to the Book of Mormon now. It's one of my favorite passages, Mosiah 4: 16-18.
16 And also, ye yourselves will asuccor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the bbeggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
17 Perhaps thou shalt asay: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.