Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hungry? Finish Your Cake

As a child, I was a very picky eater, and like a lot of children who leave most of their food on their plate, I too heard about the children starving in Africa. It made me feel quite bad. I imbibed the idea that my troubles were very small compared to those of other children who lived in less privileged parts of the world. I grew ashamed whenever I was struggling with a hard time. Suffering, indulging in suffering, was wrong, because what do I, a girl living in abundance, safety and freedom, have to complain about?

For years, I didn’t believe my own pain from depression. Divorce? Piece of cake. It’s not like I was starving. The flu? Other people are dying, untreated, of lesser illnesses even as we speak. I miss the kids? How dare I miss them when other children, even younger, are dead.

Some of my friends posted yesterday a link to a video in which people from third world countries read first world country problems: “I hate it when I forget my charger downstairs, when my house is so big I need two wireless routers, when my leather seats are not heated, when I leave the clothes in the washer so long they start to smell.” A blurb reminds us that “things that irritate us would be part of fantasy lives for people in third world countries.”

Listening to the video, I wondered, do its producers really believe that these are first world countries? Here in the United States, many are indeed fortunate. We have clean water, indoor heating, cars for every adult, public education, and abundant food. We also sometimes complain about forgetting our phone chargers downstairs. And we probably would, most of us, feel ashamed to mention any problems after listening to this video. But that doesn’t mean that our problems are any less difficult to bear.

Bipolar disorders, depression, divorces, suicide, illnesses, crime, car accidents, terrorism, losing a parent or a child, natural disasters, stress from work, we suffer from these and many more. And we could be allowed to suffer from our problems without being reminded that others in others countries are less fortunate than us. Would we tell someone whose wife died in a car accident that she was lucky to to even have a car?

I have an indoor sink!
I and many people around me (including those friends who posted that video) try to assist and give of our abundance almost every day to those in need, to those less fortunate than us, to those whose suffering is almost incomprehensible to us because we are looking at them from our position of privilege and plenty. Giving of our abundance is a wonderful feeling, to us and to those who receive of it. Let us not grow ashamed either of what we have or of what we lack, because it is our common pain and suffering that allows us to grow compassionate with the pain of the other.

Next time you leave your charger downstairs, go ahead and complain. My heart is with you. It is big enough to feel the annoyance (and sometimes much more than annoyance) of having to walk back down the stairs. My heart is big enough to feel for you and for the child with her stomach bloated with hunger. So fear not. As far as I am concerned, you’re free to feel pain.

If you want more:
Link to the First World Country Problems video

If this blog post is making your feel charitable today or any day:
Link to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Foundation, one of the charities I've been giving money to since Uri fell in love with gorillas at age 2.
Link to Bay Area Wilderness Training, a non-profit that is involved with getting less privileged kids outdoors. I believe that reconnecting to nature is our best path to world peace. I've been involved with this organization since 2006.

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