Monday, June 14, 2010

The Horn of Plenty is a Parade Float (2.16.10)

It's been hours since my last meal, but I have that uncomfortably stuffed Thanksgiving Day feeling. It's not a full belly that is making me feel over-served; it's reading the latest dispatches from Haiti.

Forty thousand people are camping in Jean Marie Vincent Park in the devastated city of Port-au-Prince. Shelters made of sheets, cardboard and pieces of wood shade families from the sun and rain. Women wash clothes in plastic tubs on the basketball courts. To get clean water, residents carry jugs and buckets to a slow filtration system installed by Operation Blessing. "We have nothing," says the young mother, waiting for food.

I turn away from the pictures of the Port-au-Prince encampment. Suddenly my family's average American home and our average American lifestyle strikes me as strange as that of the space-age Jetsons.

Clean, purified water gushes out of taps in our kitchen and bathrooms. We have bathrooms. With the turn of a knob, I can choose hot or cold. That same pure water is used to wash our clothes - which I often wash just because we wore them for a day, not because they are visibly dirty. We flush our toilets with purified water. When our babies got congestion in their lungs, we ran hot water in the shower just to sit with them in the steam.

The children each have their own bedroom. An entire room to herself.

When does abundance turn into absurdity?

Some days I wear three separate sets of clothes: one for sleeping, one for working out, and one for the rest of my day.

A machine washes my clothes.

I shop not because the cupboard is bare, but because I want that special spice for the new recipe and some fresh bread and milk. At the store the shelves are packed with boxes and cans - the endless aisles stretch away in the distance, solid walls of food.

Yesterday I got a phone call from my daughter's school.

"It's me," said my first grader on the other end. "You forgot my lunch."

I walk into the kitchen and see her lunch bag sitting on the counter. "Can't you just buy the lunch today?"

"It's turkey tacos," she replied, with finality.

I drive to school. To bring her the peanut butter sandwich.

In America, the horn of plenty is a giant parade float, shaking under its own weight.

I am not idealizing poverty. I have no illusions about the difficulty of life on $2 a day. If this is survivor guilt, so be it. Anything to shake up this complacency that blinds us to the everyday luxury of American life.

I once laughed at a comedian who imitated the complaints of airline travelers, then shouted "You're FLYING THROUGH THE AIR!" We forget the miracles under our noses. We complain. We grumble about traffic -- as we drive in our comfortable cars with full tanks. The computer is slow and I nearly blow a gasket.

"Live simply so others can simply live." Never has that directive felt so essential, nor so necessary.

We can send the Haitians our money, our thoughts, our prayers, our shoes. We can petition for Haitian debt relief. But after the benefits, the fundraisers, the education, we still owe them something else. We owe them gratitude for our own lives.

Cindy Fey blogs at We All Fall Down. Photo of the Parc Jean Marie Vincent encampment by Partners in Health. Used with permission.

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