Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday Thoughts

So I think that I find, like most thinker-type people (and I like to fancy myself as such), me and my faults tragically fascinating. Much like a train wreck or an MTV Reality show. You just can’t stop looking and seeing how base you really are.

I think I’m in this section of head space for a few reasons. One being that this year has also been a particular education in people who have the amazing ability to aggressively construct their own realities and operate in them and expect me to get that and jig with them to their own lofty music. In response I am VERY determined to ground myself and eschew any and all kinds of pretense, no matter how entertaining or charming. I think that I get carried away enough that a constant effort to keep my feet on the ground will result in a toe or two making it there.

Two, the mahvelous Hannah and I got around to seeing the new Danny Boyle film Slumdog Millionaire and I left the theater very changed.

Danny Boyle films usually leave me stunned in my seat for a good 3 minutes. After Patrick, Nick and I got out of Sunshine we went to debrief at the Bourgeois Pig and even 30 min later we were all still in stunned silence. It takes me DAYS to digest one of his films and this one really blew me away.

I had an interesting day. I had spent the morning working at the Bishop’s Storehouse* getting Christmas dinner together for those that are in need. Then that afternoon I went into this film not really knowing what to expect. Just that it was Danny Boyle and it involves India two things I adore.

In a teary conversation to Lauren shortly after I got out of the film, the sweet thing listened to go on for 20 min as I burbled on about how I think in the US we have no idea what poverty is. Like – NONE – at all. Perhaps in some parts of the remote and rural South things could get a little third world but the sheer magnitude of the slums of Mumbai just floored me. There are over 1 billion people in India and over 25% of their population live in abject-sleeping-on-the-street-digging-through-the-garbage-for-food-and-shelter-no-running-water-plumbing-or privacy kind of poverty. That’s over 250 MILLION people living like animals. That’s nearly the entire population of the United States. So out of these difficult and dehumanizing circumstances comes one of the most beautiful stories I’ve seen in a long time. These characters, these magnificent humans, didn’t let their world sink past their skin and infect how they felt about themselves. They didn’t have anything, any reason to keep up any kind of appearance. No reason to want people to think more of them than what they were. In a way, I almost envy them for that. They got to live that kind of pure life. They lived on their will to live and belief that something better would come for them.

It was so interesting to me to see that, knowing it’s a true story and juxtaposed it with my experience at the Storehouse that morning. I was in the front helping the patrons who were picking up orders and it was so fascinating to me to see the different reactions people had to being in need, being vulnerable. Some were deliriously grateful, some were distracted, almost desperate and erratic, and some were just grumpy, short and hostile. They were mad. Mad at their circumstances or mad at their choices, mad that they had to ask for help and there were people there to see them asking and it left me wondering why and wondering how I would react in the same situation. Would I be embarrassed? Would I be angry? Would I be grateful? When I really though about it I realized that I would eat every scrap of food that I had in my house and make do with dollar store accoutrements before I would ask for a food order. I didn’t even have enough humility to get myself there in the first place so even the mad guy I had to help was WAY ahead of me in the humility game. He also had a family of 6 to feed and from his paper I saw that he lived in a pretty affluent area so this must have been triply hard.

But I think all that angst and our horrible American tendency to not be even remotely aware of the gross need that the rest of the world has all comes from an unhealthy sense of entitlement. I think all Americans suffer from it to a degree, and (sadly) its more clearly visible in some LDS people I’ve known.

After seeing that movie I was ashamed that I wasn’t overcome with gratitude every day of my life for the simple fact that I had a family, blankets, maggot free food, running water, a steady supply of soap, an education, a bed – all those things that I don’t even notice everyday because they’re there everyday. And because they’re just there and I assume everyone has them because I do and the rest of the world isn’t any different than me right? Wrong. Very wrong.

I felt so jarred and so moved. I wanted to do something. I looked up volunteer programs that night. I have no idea what I could do. Go there and teach the munchkins English? I don’t know. But I felt like I had to do something. I still do and when I figure it out I’ll let you know.

So this oblivion to the working reality around me that is my world and my circumstance is the first thing in my LONG list of faults that I’m going to chisel away at. The next being this sense of entitlement that I seem to carg around like it’s the newest Louis Voutton. Once on my mission my Mission President pointed this out to a group of missionaries I was with. He was a entrepreneurial multi-millionaire. He was one of the founders of Franklin Quest and designed the merger with Stephen Covey before it was Franklin Covey. The man had bought every single one of his missionaries a Franklin planner and drove an S class Mercedes. He didn’t need money at all. But one time he was taking us out to dinner and there was a penny on the ground and he had opened the door for us and we and the Elders we were with walked right by it. It was just a penny on the ground, but he chuckled to himself, bent over, picked it up, held it up to our eye level and asked “You’re too good? Are you too good?” We were too stunned by the sudden rebuke from an otherwise congenial man so we didn’t say anything. We just shook our heads and looked around for other pennies to pick up but he just shook his head and put it in his pocket, shooed us inside and bought us all dinner.

There are layers to that lesson. Are we too good to talk to “the one”, are we afraid to get our hands dirty etc, but for today that is the lesson I’m choosing to take. I’m not too good an I need to start living by that principle because there are a lot of pennies to pick up, 250,000,000 of them in India alone. I’m not too good. If anything, they’re too good for me.

*Mormon jargon translation: The Bishop Storehouse is part of the Church’s Welfare program. It’s essentially a free grocery store that provides food and supplies to families that are in need. It’s mostly self-supplied by the Church’s canneries and dairy farms but they have everything else one would need from soap to brooms to produce to Christmas candy. The whole program is volunteer run and it’s a really awesome to do a lot of good for those people that need it.

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