An officemate of mine once boasted about getting a near top-of-the-line computer for free. When I asked where he got it, he told me that a friend of his was a computer information manager. This friend had more retired computers than he could handle. Apparently, he worked for a wealthy firm and they had the cash flow to order new computers for the staff every year.
So, I asked what he was planning on doing with those retired computers. My officemate told me that this friend had tried to donate them to Reston’s public schools, but they already could afford new computers. This guy had a few dozen computers clogging his storage room, and he was at a loss.
What about a poorer school district, I asked. This guy could call the superintendent’s office in DC or PG County and have those computers out of his hair by close of business.
Fuck them, he said.
I was stunned.
Fuck them. It’s too much trouble. Besides, he doesn’t live in the district. Why should he care? They’re all the way across the bridge.
I couldn’t even answer that dismissal; it just made so little sense. I assumed that we all knew by now just how closely we’re connected. My officemate is half-again my age, and claims to be a liberal, so I assumed he was wiser than that.
Years ago when I was more promiscuous, I caught a kissing disease. It scared me silly; had it been AIDS, I’d have been fucked. I confessed to a friend that even though I always used protection, I was concerned about STDs, or more specifically, the non-curable types. I was also concerned that, at the time, blacks made up over 50% of AIDS cases.
Well, that statistic is a bit skewed, he said. Those blacks are poor. People living across the bridge in Southeast alter the demographic.
He didn’t get it either. I had to explain that we’re all connected. A bridge is not a wall. Just because I wasn’t having sex with girls in the ghetto, it didn’t mean that I was not connected to them somehow. Think about it, I said, you knock it with that hot girl from Cleveland Park, but how do you know where she was last week. She could have been with some other guy who visits prostitutes on a regular basis. That puts you three degrees of separation away from the people across the bridge who “alter the demographic”.
I told my sister about these two conversations. She wasn’t as appalled as I was. She realized that many of us never actually see the connections that they cause. To use the worn scenario of chaos theory, we are that butterfly flapping it’s wings in Beijing, and we are also that businessman caught in the rainstorm in New York.
Our connections are ephemeral, but not transient. The strands of this web that connect us are usually too faint to see, but they hold us fast.
My sister imagined a world 15 years from today, where my officemate’s now five-year-old daughter is engaged to an underemployed young man. My officemate would inevitably complain about his daughter’s ambitionless lout, but he would never realize that this man was a product of his own callousness. His unwillingness to care about a district of schools twenty miles away may just catch up with him.
My good friend, too, just may feel the effects of his own ignorance. The patient zero of the AIDS epidemic was a world traveler that infected people who rarely left the United States. Some of us cross the bridges every day, for personal as well as professional reasons. The problems and issues they face may not be left behind upon their return.
Until we’re all willing to look over the bridges, we’ll never see the problems we face as a global society. Until we’re all able to see that the lives on the other side are connected to ours, we’ll never be able to act as a global culture. Our connections are absolute and irreversible. Our bridges are not barriers.