Thursday, May 27, 2010

Across the sea

Iris, niece

My dinner the evening of Friday, when I was supposed to post, was McDonald’s, because they have wifi. Theoretically. The network didn’t show up, so my grand plans to post were shot. I should have posted when I had internet access in the morning, at the hotel, but everything seemed too stressful. Instead, I’m tried to find internet access in the mountains of West Virginia, where my family and I spent the week at a cabin on a camping trip. These are the advantages of these trips with the family—some stress, but lots of fun. Maybe I’m one of the few people in the world that still has a blast hanging out with my immediate family.

The disadvantage to these grand trips are the spending of money. I think about that more and more as I progress west across the nation. I am spending money now. I am choosing to spend money right now, because I’m doing something that I believe in. Spending time with my family is important, as is giving myself the gift of a mini-adventure this summer. But it’s still difficult.

My brother and I had this conversation about how money only gives me freedom if I’m willing to spend it. He’s right, too, as hard as it is for me to admit. If I let it sit in my bank account and don’t do anything, then it’s not giving me freedom at all. Knowing it’s there doesn’t allow me to do anything I want with it. Like buying a plane ticket for Argentina.

The real reason I don’t like spending money is because I like having it, because it makes me feel safe, because no matter what happens I have something to fall back on. Or maybe because of the starving babies in Africa.

I hate talking about the starving African babies, because it feels like such a cliche, just a guilt trip that we lay on each other. But they’re real, and the only way Americans know how to deal with them is by ignoring their existence. I’ve talked before about how I try to handle global inequity in my own conscience, but there are only two real ways:
1. Go feed them.
2. Give money to feed them.

My third way, which feels like a massive cop-out, is to minimize my participation in an unjust system, and to raise others’ consciousness by making art. I have to believe that art has a place in the universe, despite the reality of suffering. I make art in the face of suffering. But when I buy an Extra Value Meal for $5, rather than spending that $5 to save another human being’s life, I begin to have a hard time.

How can I deal with that in my own conscience? It’s so hard to understand. How can I spend money on anything when I know that $5 can save someone’s life?

Friends argue that it’s not enough to simply choose poverty as a life choice. Maybe they’re right. I just don’t know what my other choice is, if I want to follow the vocation I believe God has chosen for me. Maybe by feeding the babies at the same time that I follow my vocation? Maybe I should buy that ticket for Algeria instead.


edifice rex said...

Well, I think I agree, to make yourself suffer just because other people suffer doesn't make a lot of sense and doesn't help anybody. Now, to give up what you don't need to help other people, does. So does using your advantages (health, strength, work etc.) to raise awareness and more money to help those people. It's not fair that some have and some have not but it's up to us, and what I believe God is trying to show us, to make things more even. A child only learns by doing themselves.

Anonymous said...

I feel that guilt too, that there are starving children in the world while I'm spending money on something that is not vital to sustain life. The reality is that there is always more that could be cut out. I could stop doing ballroom dancing and the kids could quit karate or there other rotating ventures of new experiences. But at the same time, there is a part of me that values these experiences that take us beyond mere subsistence. Isn't that what God wants for his children, for them to enjoy their bodies and the world he made for them? Maybe it's what I want for my children anyway. It is unfair that my children have something that other children do not have.

It does make for craziness. I think to myself, I could pinch every penny and put it in a college fund for my kids or send it overseas to feed hungry babies. I used to scorn this life I am living in the suburbs. I used to think the only life worth living was one of sacrifice, living in a mud hut in Africa. There is a part of me that still thinks that. But there is a part of me that thinks that watching my daughters receive such good educations and watching them develop their interests is good in its own right.