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Living the Vintage Years: Life’s injustices are everyone’s problem

Decades ago when I was entering various competitions to win college scholarships, I had to write several essays explaining what I hoped to accomplish with my degree. In a nutshell, I declared I wanted to change the world. To do this, I elaborated, I would use my platform as a journalist to create awareness and dispel apathy.

To this day, when a reader of my published work tells me the piece made him or her think, I feel I have succeeded in achieving my goal.

Too many people amble through life wearing blinders, oblivious to the problems and wrongs that surround us. I never have been one of those people.

I cannot count the times I have heard the words, “Mind your own business,” under many different circumstances. A rote response is always ready on the tip of my tongue.

“This is my business,” I calmly reply. “This is everyone’s business.”

When I see an opportunity to help, I make it my business. I don’t wait to be asked because some individuals, especially older ones, are reluctant to ask for assistance.

I recall a friend once telling me my late husband and I were “extreme” for spending hours each week, for almost 20 years, cleaning up old cemeteries.

“Who cares, anyway?” she asked rhetorically.

I do. These cemeteries are the repositories of our collective history.

They are the final resting places of local soldiers from the American Revolution, Civil War and Spanish-American War. In addition, the Founding Fathers of our communities are buried in these graveyards.

Vandalized tombstones, stolen grave markers and rampant litter in such historical public spaces are my business - and the business of other citizens who appreciate the importance of history.

Years ago, during an evening walk, we saw an elderly man get bitten by a dog that bolted from the porch of an apartment building. Witnesses to the incident, we offered the man our names and phone number and directed him to the appropriate city department that investigates dog bites. The man was new to the area and grateful for our help.

“Most people wouldn’t want to get involved,” he said, as he thanked us repeatedly.

One of my friends confirmed his assumption.

“If it didn’t involve me, I would have ignored it,” she said.

That attitude baffles me. Why wouldn’t a person want to render aid to a senior citizen with a bloody leg? If that man had been my father, I would want bystanders to make it their business to help.

Even something as innocuous as recycling can elicit a “mind your own business” admonition.

When I asked a woman I know well why she was throwing into the garbage a number of items her municipality required be recycled, she retorted that recycling was “too much trouble.”

She continued. “Why should you care? It doesn’t affect you.”

Yes, it affects me. It affects all of us. So does automobile oil dumped on the street or chemicals poured into our streams. I want to live on a healthy planet. If we trash our environment, nothing else will matter because we no longer will be able to survive here. So, indeed, the woman’s indifference to earth-friendly practices is my business.

The same indifferent attitude is pervasive among apathetic folks when faced with the homeless and the destitute. My meager involvement to help ease the plight of these unfortunate souls in our midst was met with criticism and warnings from people I know.

“Don’t try to help them. You’ll get murdered.”

“They want to live this way.”

“It’s not your problem. They deserve it.”

And the inevitable: “It’s none of your business. Just ignore them.”

Ignoring problems does not make them disappear. Society’s ills affect all of us.

If we are not bothered morally or spiritually, perhaps we will feel the pain economically, as more of our income will be needed by government agencies to provide additional services for the needy.

All of society’s problems are my business, and, like it or not, they are your business, too.