Last weekend I served with my women's small group at a food packing event put on by Bright Hope-- a missions organization (for which my friend, works) that specializes in supporting impoverished nations (those where the civilians live on less than a $1 a day) by giving them tools (such as micro loans) to get on their feet and self sufficient. This packing event was part of the Hope for Haiti initiative--a project aimed at caring for the millions of women and children affected by the death, disease, and hunger which existed long before the fateful day of 1/12/2010 and was only expounded by the devastating effects of the earthquake.
In the minutes prior to beginning our volunteer stint, we were spoken to by the president of BrightHope and watched a brief video showing first hand the inhumane conditions which these innocent people are forced to live in, and more than 315,000 have died in since last year. To be honest, what I saw and heard--obviously intended to pull on the heart strings--didn't affect me too deeply. Perhaps my general temperament, or learned emotional detachment for my job, was to blame. Perhaps it was even a hard heart towards serving or distasteful apathy. Any way around it, I just wanted to stop talking about it and start doing something about it.
Donning a stylish hair net and sweaty plastic gloves, coming off a long and tiring school week, visions of the thankless lunch lady position higher education had helped me surmount danced through my head. Clutching two long silver spoons, my appointed duty was to scoop two fourths of a one-person meal into a funnel. Which led to a plastic pouch containing all the contents. Which was then meticulously weighed. Which was fastened in a plastic sealer. Which was placed into a cardboard box with 35 other identical bags. Which was taped shut and joined the ranks of some 6,000 boxes on their way to the starving people of the island. 212,000 meals a little town in the comfortable suburbs of Chicago contributed to a destroyed country thousands of miles away.
Manning this labor line with the 7 other ladies of my small group was where reality set in. The meals going into each one of those bags had nutritional value, and had the potential to improve the health of many women and children within just days. But upon a glance, the meals hardly qualified as such. They were nothing more than powdered chicken and soy, dried vegetable flakes, and plain rice in 2 pound installments. Even the worst concoction served up by a 300 pound cafeteria lady with a beard would have been far more welcome a sight to the average hungry American. But not so for the much hungrier Haitians. The best eats they've seen in recent memory are dried up balls of clay and salt. For which they've been charged by whomever was lucky enough to have a monopoly on the edible clay industry. For them, this mixture added with water to make a mealy gruel, is a Godsend.
Somewhere between an overpriced meal at TGIFriday's that I was blessed to afford, and a late night snack to satisfy my sweet tooth, I got served up a healthy dose of perspective:
I'll never get it.Hearing about the plight of the Haitians made the situation real to me. Seeing the images made it more real. Preparing their meals made it even more real. Actually going to Haiti and experiencing the conditions firsthand would bring the reality home in a way I've never known before. But no matter what I hear, see, do, or where I go, I will never understand what it is to be impoverished. Despite my education on the Third World, I will continue to moan and groan over trivialities like the sound of my alarm, or having to do the occasional chore, or staying late at school. I will feel like my world is falling down over petty things like someone gossiping about me or tripping and falling in public. I will become engrossed in fear when my bank funds dip to a point where I probably won't be able to eat out or shop for enjoyment for a few weeks. Perhaps tragedies or devastation will one day make me genuinely thankful for the comfort in which I live. Until then, I'm only so capable of gratitude from my cushy, spinning office chair.
Perhaps there is something I can do, though, to instill gratitude in others. Every day I interact with individuals--children and adults alike--who have the gift of grumbling. Some of them, I will admit, have life situations which could warrant more complaining than my own: turbulent homes, unemployed parents, emotional challenges, etc. Some of them, I believe, have life situations which warrant nothing but counting blessings and exceeding joy. All of them, based on the trivialities they choose to lament for all to hear, are big complainers.
Just like I'll never truly understand the toils of the Haitians, I can't really put myself into the shoes of students and coworkers. But, I'm willing to bet none of them will go to sleep on an empty stomach tonight, in a deterioriating shack, on a cold, hard floor, their bodies ravished by typhoid and dysentery. And I want to remind them of that fact.
Recently, PBS aired an "Independent Lens" series called "Children of Haiti". It is film documenting first hand accounts of adolescence in the country following the earthquake. Today I began a short study with clips from the film in my Study Skills class.
Their classwork is your homework.
1) Make a list of everything worth complaining about to you right now. Don't be shy. Everyone, in their day, has an eye-roll/grumble/sigh-worthy moment. Some of us are more vocal about what peeves us than others. What's got your goat?
2) Watch the short clips from the film on Pbs.com (link above) reviewing your list as you do.
3) Compare your list of complaints to those of the Haitians. Reflect and allow the brevity of perspective to settle in. Chances are the words "lucky", "blessed", "fortunate", and/or "spoiled" will pop into your mind somewhere along the way.