Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gandhi, fertilizer, and farmers

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” --Mahatma Gandhi

My mom has given me a book to read, entitled Coming up for Air, by Margaret Becker, a onetime Christian musician. We’re out on the boat, again in Quissett Harbor, this time with my parents as houseguests. They’re out on the dinghy (which we have christened Tinkerbell, or, in my zanier moments, Dinkerbell) right now, rowing across to a little spit of land called the knob. I think they’re having a good time. After my mom left, I picked up her book, and that quote was the first thing I read. “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

I’ve read it a hundred times, but I don’t think it ever hit me as hard as it did today. My parents are missionaries, and this trip has been a way for me to both explain and justify what I’m doing to them. I have this feeling that they think I’m squandering my abilities just sailing around, that I’m wasting my education and my talent, that I could be changing the world.

But I must BE the change I wish to see in the world. We spent this weekend with my brother, Peter, who’s attending graduate school at Harvard this year. My sister’s in graduate school too, and it’s hard to compete with them—they’re the two good children, living responsible, sane lives, not throwing away perfectly respectable careers to hike trails and ride bikes and sail across oceans in thirty-year-old beat-up sailboats. My brother told me a story about the high rate of suicide of poor farmers in India, who are being marketed genetically engineered crops by American companies. The crops are allegedly pest-resistant, but they’re also infertile, meaning that the farmers are forced to purchase seeds every season from the companies instead of being able to produce their own seed from their crop. Before, even if they had a bad harvest, at least they could replant. Now, if they have a bad harvest, they’re left with nothing, not even what they need for the next year.

One farmer planted his fields three times. The first and second time, there was no rain. The third time it rained too hard, and all the seeds were washed away. He took his last seven dollars, bought a jug of pesticide, and committed suicide by drinking it. He had gone into so much debt to buy his seeds that he could see no way out.

That story is exactly what’s wrong with our world. I don’t know how to fix it. I want to be there, helping that farmer, saving him somehow. How much money do I have? How much would he need to replant his fields? I’m sure it would be nothing to me. I spend that much on dinner out. But there’s so many like him. Not just in India, but all over the world. And I’m the one investing in the company that sells him his seeds (I have mutual funds, and I have no idea what stock they own), I’m the one buying his crops at unfairly low prices, I’m the one putting greenhouse gases into the air so his weather patterns are utterly destroyed. How can I fix that?

I don’t know if cruising will fix anything. I feel like I should aspire to be Mother Teresa, the one feeding the babies, clothing the lepers, caring for the sick. But maybe it’s my calling to tell the stories. Maybe just by telling his story I can help some Americans understand how rich we are, how much we can do. All I can hope is to change myself. I’ll sell my mutual funds and buy canned goods for the boat. I’ll buy produce from local farmers at their own markets. I’ll use wind instead of fossil fuels to move me across the water. Maybe I can meet that farmer, or someone like him, and help him somehow, or encourage him. Or maybe I can inspire someone else to change, and maybe if enough of us become the change we see in the world, things will actually get better.

I have to have faith. I do believe that God is bringing all things to completion, but the world seems so ugly so often. There’s so much injustice, so much pain, so much evil. I can only follow the path I believe God has laid out for me, in faith, in hope, and with love.

1 comment:

kimberlee so said...

hey, i have this gandhi quote on my file cabinet (your old file cabinet) yay! hope you have a wonderful trip, excited to read along :)