by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

News media reports indicate that apathy is at an all-time high in our country, and that small percentages of the voters are actually planning to go to the booths today. Six years ago, I wrote the following poem about apathy. The Free Press reran it before the 1996 presidential election. And it still rings true today on the cusp of another election.

I heard a knock upon my door

And opened it to see

All the poor around the world

Looking back at me

In tattered clothes and worn-out shoes

With families to feed,

They held their hands out, hopefully,

Could I address their need?

“Too many,” I said, overwhelmed,

And shut the door in dread

For I am just one person,

“There’s a way,” a small voice said.

NOT a moment passed before

I heard another knock,

And all the hungry,’round the world

Were out there, to my shock

Their bellies round and bloated

The eyes as blank as chalk

They looked at me as if to speak

But fell, too weak to talk

I shut the door in sorrow,

“There’s too many to be fed!”

For I am just one person,

“There’s a way,” the small voice said.

WHO was this voice, I wondered?

When a knock drew my surprise

Foreign armies’round my house,

Blocking out the skies

Their weapons spread for miles and miles

Their missiles at the fore

They seemed to stare me in the eye

I quickly shut the door

“There must be some mistake!,” I cried

“These armies are misled,

“I have no power over them!”

“You do,” this small voice said.

AND as I pondered for a while,

Another knock I heard

This time the door revealed to me

A vision quite absurd

All the nation’s ill and sick

Were crowded on my lawn

Wheelchairs, nurses, bandages,

Were stretched from dusk to dawn

“What will you do,” they said as one

“To pay for all these beds?”

“You’re asking me?” I told them

“They are,” the small voice said.

AND then a knock, a rapping sound

And fire, like a torch,

I looked outside to see a

Nation’s crime wave on my porch

It seemed to stretch beyond the night

With chains and knives and guns

Poverty that turned to thieves

the sweetest mothers’sons

“Leave!” I shouted, “Go away!

“Where are the police?”

I slammed the door, then heard that voice:

“You can make it cease.”

AND so it went for all the day,

The knocking never ending

And every time a different cause

Too big for comprehending,

And always came this foolish voice,

A sound as calm as spring

Claiming I had power

over everything.

“SHOW YOURSELF!,” I hollered now

“For this has gone too far.

“I’m busy, I have work to do,

“I need to wash my car

“These optical illusions

“Are some deceptive game

“Thinking I can change the world

“Is really quite insane.”

I waited then for some reply,

But quiet fell once more

Finally, a faint and weakened

Knocking on my door

I opened it to see a child there

Bending at the knee

I gasped for breath and rubbed my eyes

For this child looked like me

HIS face was hung in sadness,

His body thin and lone,

His eyes revealed a hopelessness,

That chilled me to my bone.

I wanted to embrace him, but

He turned and walked away

“You’ve left your child no future,”

I heard that small voice say.

“The power to create a change

“For hungry and for poor,

“Those armies, you ignored them

“Tho’just outside your door

“Because you are one person,

“You gave nothing but your sighs

“The terror of your apathy

“Lies in your children’s eyes”

NOW my heart was pounding,

My anger boiled and burned

“Tell me, then!” I hollered

“What fact should I have learned?

“Tell me how that I can save

“A life from such despair

“Tell me where this magic cure

“Lies hidden in the air

“Tell me how a factory man,

“A farmer pulling wheat,

“Can make a dent in problems

“Meant for armies, or Wall Street

“Tell me how a simple soul

“Turns living from the dead.”

And here it came, a single word:

“Vote,” the small voice said.

To leave a message for columnist Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581. You can write to him at the Free Press, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, Mich. 48226.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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