living in the lap of luxury
Thinking back to school days I have no doubt my teachers intended me to learn all sorts of weighty knowledge, and it's likely that I did imbibe some of what they sought to impart. Perhaps I even learned huge swathes of facts and figures - I sure studied hard enough!
Thinking back though, it's mostly irrelevant things I recall... creating volcanoes in the sandpit, concocting rotten egg gas, resting a needle on the meniscus of a glass of water, the extra trill tacked onto the end of a piece of music, crying with Bob Hawke over Tiananmen Square, the quirky personality of a lecturer donned in thongs rain, hail or shine. Arguably the most useful thing I remember is the definition of osmosis: the movement of particles from a region of high concentration to a region of low concentration through a semi-permeable membrane.
All those years spent studying and I can only hope my knowledge base is fat with a general air of knowing. Because the facts and figures slipped away long ago!
In the intervening years since school not that much has changed - I still seem programmed to remember the incidental, inconsequential things and forget the relevant bytes of information. Working in my favour is the way all those incidental, inconsequential things weave themselves together into something truly useful that guides my life. (I'm still figuring out the useful contribution of needles on menisci and rotten egg gas...) Snatches of truth, principles, generalities... all converge to produce an idea that gains significance in the nitty gritty of everyday life.
Lately a host of truths, principles and generalities have been snapping together like magnets in my mind. World poverty, ethical eating, environmental conscience, sustainable living... these and many other ideas swim around in my head, seeking each other out, forming values and beliefs, influencing my behaviour.
A thought from my recent residential school is a case in point. We were discussing the counselling needs of people who have experienced trauma and loss when the lecturer pointed out that the very fact we have time and space to discuss such events with a counsellor is testimony to the privilege and luxury we enjoy. Many of the world's population do not have access to this privilege - their trauma and losses are incomprehensibly greater than our own, yet they are so caught up in the task of survival that they have no resources left for processing their experiences.
I can't shake that thought, the thought of the luxury and privilege I enjoy. For one, I can afford to study! (Leave alone having the chance to learn to read) Then there is my choice to work part time, not because I have children or an injury, but simply because of the quality of life it affords me. As I sit and study, or read, or cook for pleasure I am plagued by visions of those who must work tirelessly through every day to simply survive: gathering wood; milking goats; grinding wheat. And what about our new car? The one with the six stack CD player? Most people of the world can only dream of such a grand possession.
Yes, I live in the lap of luxury.
It all came home a little more strongly this afternoon. Today Frank and I heard about a young orphan boy in Kenya who lives in a single room with his grandparents and plays with cars he makes from wire. I wept.
What a world. That I can be so, so rich while this boy is so, so poor. That I have food, and shelter, and transport, and education while he has so little. That we in the West perpetuate his poverty with our systems of exploitation and greed. This is a travesty.
May I be responsible with my wealth, using it to ease the pain of those who experience little in the way of luxury, promoting the principles of justice and compassion and resisting the urge to think only of myself.