There are not enough tears to cry over the hurtful words that have been written or pronounced over the last couple of weeks from all sides in light of the recent events in the life and politics of our country. As a follower of Christ, I am aware of my duty to stand by and for God’s truth and yet I am also compelled to speak to the issues with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). That, I am endeavoring to do.

With that in mind, today I write about some of the desperate things people have to do in order just to survive. I offer the following as a way of thanking God for the things I have NOT been forced to do and also as an attempt to shine a little light into a world that is vastly different from our own, where people live and die daily for not having a simple pill or an opportunity to see a doctor. Getting that perspective, hopefully, will help us not to judge too harshly.

A friend of mine works in a developing country. Being resourceful, he reinvented himself a thousand times to just stay ahead of the game of survival. He held multiple jobs, from juggling on street corners to digging graves to plastering posters for political candidates. He has fed horses, cleaned elephants’ poop, and stood motionless while a red-bearded, half-drunk middle aged man threw knives at him. When I asked what he had not done to survive, in his peculiar foreign-accented English, he replied, “I haven’t prostituted.”

I thought about him this week as I listened to an old classic in Portuguese by the late Brazilian composer Cartola. He was a genius who came to be recognized only later in life. His first recording didn’t happen until he was well into his 70’s. He grew up in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and never rose above the poverty line. At times he was destitute, but he still managed to remain a man of honor.

A traumatic event happened in his household when his young daughter suddenly announced that she was leaving the house to become a prostitute. Cartola took up the guitar and wrote a haunting, sobering, painful, and brutally honest song to try to convince his daughter not to leave the house. However, he knew too well that his effort was going to be in vain. With time, the song became famous and only later the public would know the story behind the song. I reproduce the words here, with my own translation. Now I realize that some of the impact is lost when we go from a language to another, but I have the power of these words brought me to tears many times this week.

The World is a Mill
By Cartola

It’s still early, darling/You’ve just barely started living/And suddenly you say you’re leaving/Without even knowing which way you will go/Pay attention, my dear /Though I know how resolved you are/On each street corner a little of your life will fall/And in a short time you no longer will be what you are/Listen well, my love/Pay attention, the world is a mill/And measly. It will grind your dreams/And reduce your false hopes to dust/Pay attention, my dear/Each love will only leave you with cynicism/When you wake up, you will be on the edge of the abyss/Abyss that you dug with your own two feet.

I can’t even picture this scene in my mind: A father desperately pleading with his teenage daughter to reconsider a decision that would change her life forever. The words are tender, with many hints of a father who absolutely adores his daughter. There are no false promises, no proposed bargains, only a stark warning of what would happen if she chose to follow through with her desperate plan. The saddest thing is that the father sees no possibility of her changing her mind and gives no assurances that he could potentially make things better for her. These are some of the ingredients of tragedy.

This story, in addition to filling my eyes with tears for the sadness of the pain of an irreconcilable dilemma, also allows me to bend my knees in an attitude of gratitude, for though I too have had to do desperate things to survive, never have I been forced to break the law or act against my conscience in order to make it in life. And I have never had to see my children, whom I am sworn to protect, resort to a maddening decision such as the one made by Cartola’s daughter, whose ultimate future perhaps only those close to the family know about.

The lesson for me is that before I judge too harshly I must consider the circumstances of those who resort to desperate measures. No, I am not in favor of anyone breaking the law, but my humanity cries out for those who find themselves with little or no resources to do what they themselves believe is the right thing to do. May we never find ourselves in that kind of dilemma, and if we do, may we have the fortitude of this little known man called Cartola.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA