What we want out of life has a lot to do with what we expect from life.
What we expect has a lot to do with how life has gone for the people around us.
Those to whom much is given, much will be required.
I am talking to my new friend, “Rosa.” I am sitting in her apartment, eating her food, listening to her story. Already I know her smile and her facial expressions. But she is telling me how, five years ago, she left her two daughters behind and traveled to a new country – my country – so that she could earn enough money to care for their most basic needs. The journey was horrible, threatening (and nearly taking) her life. She works now, longer hours than I ever have, harder work than I have ever done, for less money than I have ever earned. She can think of no way that she will realistically ever see her daughters again, but because of the couple hundred dollars she sends back each moth, they survive.
It is one thing to read this story and quite another to hear it while looking at her eyes and sharing her food, calling her my friend. My children are now the exact ages hers were when she left. For one horrible moment I try to imagine myself in a position where my children lacked even basic food, water, shelter, and education; where they could survive only if I left them behind forever and moved to a foreign land where I had nothing and no one. In all the worst-case scenarios that always run through my head, this one has never, ever, come up. It is unthinkable.
Living with roaches and no washing machine is nothing by comparison.
I am around Rosa and others like her all the time now. Their lives and losses are each unique, but all within the same magnitude. I am beginning to feel that my standard of living, which recently took a nose dive, is quite opulent. I consider how many people she shares her tiny apartment with and wonder what I could do to get by on less than I have now; if someone else could somehow have more if I was willing to have less.
At the same time, I also enter a very different world each day. A world that feels “normal” and increasingly not normal at all. A world in which people are paid all the money they have earned; a world where education can be had; where skin color, language, clothing, and mannerisms invisibly open doors, not slam them shut; a world where we talk about needing a bigger house if a baby’s on the way, or a smart phone, or a vacation abroad, or a PhD. I participate in these conversations pretending like its normal but I’m choking back something between a laugh of irony and a sob of pain. Because I want all these things too but it sounds so, so funny to me now.
Forget asking which world is normal. Forget asking even which world is right. I’m consumed with the question: which world is mine? The one I see everyday, the one who’s injustices and pain call to me more passionately and compellingly each day? Or the one that made me, the one I have always know and by which I have been known?
Or a third option, as A will always find – living as a bridge between the two. An endless loop of culture shock and re-entry shock, not daily but several times per day. And then, where do I learn what to expect? From the life I have always lived or the life I am surrounded by now? As my expectations change, so too my worldview and my theology and my understanding of blessing and of responsibility and good news and on and on….
You are the ultimate of love and beauty, yet you lived and suffered with us. Teach me, please. Gently.
When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. – The Bible
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and…love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. – The Bible