Upon my return to the United States after nine months of travel between Asia and South America, everyone wanted to know my perspective.
What did I learn? It was as if I went to another planet, as if, they couldn’t even be bothered to imagine what a place like India or the Amazon might teach them. To these inquisitive few I was an astronaut and they longed for my new found planetary wisdom. I don’t think most even understood what they wanted to know.
Did they want to know how many rupees I spent on water for the dirty, barefoot, five year old girls wandering in a slum past midnight while the shadow of a man eyeing their profits followed their every move? Did they want to know where those little ones are now? Or how many tents are laid on the streets of the Peruvian Amazon three years in a row because the water level is too high making thousands of homes unlivable.
No, they ask with the best intentions, but I know what I really want to share is unspeakable for common conversation.
So, instead I tell them loudly. “We are the luckiest people alive.”
That is what I learned. The world at our fingertips, hot showers, refrigerators full of food, closets full of clothes, vehicles, Netflix in the overwhelming majority of homes on every street, every state in the whole of this continent. We got it. We won.
This answer was my faux encouragement and acceptance of our lives filled to the brim with excess.
They always sort of cheer when I sum up their triumphs of being born in a certain location as if this life is a right or somehow suggests we are better for it. I do agree with much of my response, we are fortunate, however, I say this every time with a grain of salt.
I say it with bitters at the end that are only heard by those rare few who haven’t already started celebrating the shortcomings of the rest of the world.
Yes, it seems we are the favored ones. We can be warm with four feet of snow in a city covered with ice. We relieve ourselves in water far cleaner then billions of people have ever even tasted. Hunger, thirst, torture are hyperbolic complaints used here mostly out of boredom, that don’t even cross our minds as a realistic situation in which one could find themselves.
We are the fortunate ones.
We don’t know discomfort in the form of boiling pots of dirty snow to share with our family in darkness. We know Stop and Shop in lieu of the plants or the animals that surround us. We live in a world a cut above the rest. We know hardships, I’m sure of it, but in my humble opinion, our hardships are incomparable to the level of poverty that exists in the often forgotten parts of this world.
We get road rage and impatient with slow customer service. We get out of a hot shower wrap ourselves in a clean towel and wipe the mirror filled with fog and see ourselves. We see the individual, the American, the lucky one.
Shouldn’t we just see human?
Don’t we see responsibility to the unlucky ones? There are no differences—our showers, our homes, our sufferings may be different but we are not different in anyway. For better or worse, we are the same, all of us.
I hope when I give this gratuitous response to my fellow Americans after nine months abroad they feel the weight of the responsibility we hold being so free, so fortunate, as the ones enjoying daily hot showers and clean drinking water. Five thousand children die every day from contaminated drinking water, five thousand children every day. The refugee count in Europe is upwards of four million people.
These are not just numbers but people, family, loved ones. My perspective of the world has changed quite a bit over the past year and since they asked, we are the luckiest people alive, so isn’t it time to help?
I wouldn’t suggest I have the answers or even a specific call to action just yet, for that I am still searching. I suppose the world will continue at its current state. I can only consider it a gift to have been slapped in the face with a first hand education on our world.
In this moment all I can ask of those who ask me, myself included, is: when you rise in the morning, rise with the eyes of those waking to a very different world. Allow compassion to energize you and gratitude to keep you awake in all the little moments in your day.
Second to clean water, the greatest of our gifts is instantaneous access to education of all forms. If you feel compelled even for a moment, I urge you to educate yourself, get to know the plight of the children born to the forgotten crevices of the world, whether this education comes from travel, volunteering time, or just simply doing the research.
It is in this knowledge that you get to know yourself and the incredible power we hold along with being the lucky ones, the free ones, the ones who can help.
Author: Paige Sommer
Editor: Catherine Monkman