Going to Extremes

It’s been a year of extremes thus far.

In January, I spent a week in the high heat of Managua, Nicaragua, where the daytime temperatures are routinely at 90+ degrees Fahrenheit; simply, there is no escape from the humid heat, even in air conditioning.  Last week, I returned from a time on Madeline Island on Lake Superior.  There, the evening temperatures reached -40 degrees Fahrenheit, with windchill factors of -60; simply, there is no escape from the cold at such depths, even when sitting in front of a wood stove.  I suspect I must have been approaching the full range of ambient temperature extremes at which the human creature can survive.

Here in the north, people can be cold to the point where they don’t even recognize each other!  It’s hard to see or acknowledge someone when peering out from the relative warmth and comfort of an insulated cocoon.  We’d actually rather not stop to discourse anyway:  we all sound as though we are actually speaking a different language when muttering from behind frigid faces.  It’s different in the south.  The discomforts that are felt there have nothing to do with cold,  but rather stem from perpetual hot air which suffocates even the heartiest Nicaraguans eventually.

Temperatures aren’t the only extremes I’ve experienced.  My January visit to Nicaragua included a conversation with Vanessa Castro Cardenal, vocal and energetic advocate for educating the youth of Nicaragua.  (See my blog at this site, “Reading Between the Lines,” dated February 17.)   Her fervent hope is to place a book in the hand of every Nicaraguan child in the hope of cultivating a love for reading, and a capacity beyond a third grade level.  Literally days later, meeting with several representatives from the Jesuit University community  was like being on a different planet.  Hearing the aspirations strategized from within that community made me wistful for my youth!  How I would cherish a second chance to embrace the holistic health of such an education as they envision, as would so many in Nicaragua.

In January I “moonlighted” by working on some private employment contracts that contained language providing for hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual compensation and incentives.  And then within days, I found myself updating my own often-cited statistics concerning average Nicaraguan pay: $2.50 per day, up from previous years at $2.00 daily.  The disparity of those two realities was reinforced last week while watching the Sochi Olympics.  I learned that staging the games in Russia incurred a $51 billion price tag, in a country where the average pay might be $20 a day.  Inequity is apparently universal, without national boundaries.

While musing out loud about such wide disparities, an acquaintance suggested that the world has always been this way, both in terms of the divergent natural habitats found on earth as well as in the differences we encounter as its inhabitants.  It was offered up as an explanation of sorts, but I took it as a condemnation.  For while there may be little we can do to moderate the hot and cold temperatures of the air, we certainly control both the warmth and the coolness radiated out from ourselves.  While students will never reach perfect parity with one another in their capacities to learn, we surely owe each the opportunity to achieve that which they can.   And while each of us are owed the full fruits of our labor, it can never be at the expense of other lives.

We seem to have allowed ourselves the latitude to remain cold in the heat of the human struggle, a posture that feels a bit extreme….





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