“Between the worlds of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field; I will meet you there. “ Rumi, Sufi Poet
It is on a Tuesday night and I feel great, on my bike, the cool night air stealing the sweat from my skin, leaving goosebumps like the Joker left a playing card. In through my nose, out through my mouth, I breathe deeply, punctuate my exhalations by adding some voice to them. These AHHHS fall into rhythm with the movement of my pedals. Things seem like they are in slow motion, the world for me, a higher definition than high definition, crisp. Shinning almost at full, the moon looks close, like it’s snuck in for a peek, closer and bigger than usual, perfectly round, pulled in tight by the full tide of my happiness, the peace I have in that moment.
Thousands of miles from home, I think of Thanksgiving. On Thursday evening my family will gather, eat more than they should, talk about school, work, the delicious mashed potatoes, watch football, wash the dishes, joke. Most people that pass the piano will hit a few notes. Chairs will be brought up from downstairs. My grandfather at his happiest – his reasons for living all around him. Someone will set the table. My father will cook a whole extra dinner and bring it to the soup kitchen. Like a slideshow, I see the images in my head. My mom teary eyed as B.C. talks about another year of good health but the absence of people, his wife, his son and family in
A left outside of the gate, my peace is assaulted. There are no cameras or microphones – the circumstances lob grenades and difficult questions at my core. In the shadows of the 12-foot high retaining wall marking the perimeter of
My brother is really bad at this part. Before we eat we go around the table and ask everyone to take a moment and say what they are thankful for. Without me there he should be better, he can’t say something like: “I am thankful for Aaron’s gas,” or “Really big adenoids.” He can’t help himself. Susan just had heart surgery. Someone will say ‘good health.’ Family. Secure finances. Safety. Staring at the food on the table staring back, ‘Food.’ Diana will make everyone cry, the sound of her child’s voice piercingly sincere; she says it just right. A home. A job. A mixture of personal issues and larger World Peace type topics will be said and everyone means the words they say.
The moon’s disappeared. I know these people have family next time them and in their villages, but they are still sleeping on the ground, in the cold, outside of the walls. This is the first time I have missed Thanksgiving, thousands and thousands of miles away from home and I miss my family, that warm, familiar scene, but never on this day have I been more thankful. Yes this is an unoriginal comment from the young American living in the face of poverty. But it is true. The absurd amount of wealth, social capital, support I have in my life is, at times, unfathomable; the glasses I wear cost more than that man makes in a year, the credit card in my pocket can mobilize more money than that woman will make in the rest of her life, this bike costs what that boy will earn begging in a month, the ice cream I ate costs more than the whole family will earn today.
I think about the rationalizing barriers I build in my mind. Maybe this is an observation to offer, wondering about how I build that same wall between business school and destitution, plush green grass, and a lack of drinking water, somehow telling myself that the little I do is good enough. I sit in rickshaws for the longest 70-second intervals one can bear. As the clock counts down from 70, red to green, a woman taps my arm again and again, asking me for 10 rupees. Again and again all she says is 10, 10, 10. Her infant child, with snot exploding from its nose, perched on her hip. Ten, ten, ten. Ten rupees is $.25. I have that much and more in my pocket. She doesn’t ask me for a house. She doesn’t ask me why I am healthy, why I have a home, why I can get a job, why I don’t have to beg. She asks me for 10 rupees. Somehow, for that entire 70 seconds I find ways to tell her no, to look her in the eye as I feel my spine melting and my head pathetically sinking into my stomach, my torso like a jelly fish, no integrity, flapping like a plastic bag filled with water. I stand behind some wall I’ve built in my mind.
You should give it to a street children’s organization instead. It is likely that her husband will take the money and use it on alcohol. Sometimes there are beggar mafias that operate, and some goon will demand a cut of her money, basically renting her a certain corner to beg on. It is better if she goes to school and learns to get a real job. It is just a band aid, not a solution.
In that moment right there, there really is no good reason not to give money to that woman.
If she were sat at our table, I wonder what she would say. Besides, “Where is the rotti?” I wonder what things make her smile, what she appreciates, what she is thankful for this day.
The black and white of the contrast is too stark for my mind to process, to really understand. Why me with this and you with that? I am used to more shades of grey, space to interject ‘buts,’ and modifying clauses, usually not venturing too far away from a wall to duck behind.
The last 5 seconds on the clock switch pace, engines race all around me but the slow motion of my mind returns. I get lost in my thoughts, trying to think of the next steps from this place of appreciation to the action of showing it, to try and shatter the walls that I’ve managed to build on foundations of excuse, avoidance, and the preference for comfort. Actions instead of words. When I say I am thankful, instead of saying it with a tone of resignation - I am thankful I have this, that I am not them - to instead try to take action to show someone who might be farther from their support network and family, home, closer to the baselines of reality and survival, preoccupied with more pressing concerns, without a support network at all, that my appreciation is not a comparative one, but a true one, thankful for what I have because I am lucky to, not because you don’t. Before the light turns green I push myself to do more, to act, refuse to be passive, attempt to slowly rebuild my spine and moral standings on actions and not words.