After my most recent entry here (“Not A Nicaraguan,” posted 11-17-11), I got to thinking further about the reflection and wondered what is my objective in sharing my thoughts every week? I suppose it finally dawned on me that a series of seemingly random, disconnected essays ought to have a goal to be achieved or an end in mind. Being a writer at heart, I never really questioned myself about my purposes in opining here each week or so; a person who loves to write simply does it because he/she must. And while I’m not obsessive about my written expressions, I do confess to a certain compulsion to write about the people and perspectives of Nicaragua. So upon consideration of the question about my aims in writing here, I was able to figure out, at least in part, why I take the time to do this.
First, like all too many residents of the United States, I grew up and was educated in a cocoon of sorts. While I understood that there was this thing called poverty in the world, I never had to come face-to-face with it. Reading about it and perhaps participating in some safe, classroom discussions about it were as far as I was required to go in confronting the topic and that was just fine with me. Once out of college, I married, set about the task of finding work, creating a career, having a family and pursuing my own part of the “American dream.” Drawing upon those earlier, brief exposures to the reality of poverty in the world, I never lost sight of what I perceived to be my (limited) role in addressing it: charitable giving became an early and important part of our household budgeting, done comfortably at arm’s-length with a check through the mail. But I never allowed myself to inch much closer to the truth of poverty. In fact, I was never able to embrace the issue of poverty as my own responsibility until I traveled to Central America and came face-to-face with live human beings immersed in need. Then it became real.
Unfortunately, that’s the way it is with most of us. Awareness is only afforded to those realities which are directly in front of us and which can therefore demand our attention. But most of us will never travel to the poorest regions of the world. And the only means by which I can address that reality is through sharing my own experiences from visits that I have had the good fortune to make. The great sorrow and shame that is poverty in our world is too easy to overlook, too comfortable to forget, without some kinds of reminders to penetrate our consciousness. I have family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have curiosity about Winds of Peace and who thus follow what I write here, so my entries provide one tiny pinprick of reminder about the contrast between our lives and the ones about which I write. And that awareness is a necessity, whether it’s comprised of fifty readers or just one.
Second, I feel the need to put a face on all of this. One of my difficulties in seeing poverty as belonging to me was the impersonality of it. By remaining at safe distance, by relegating it to statistics and percentages and far-off lands, the issue could never become a personal one. Throughout my entire high school years I did not personally know any poor person . Churches were not yet creating opportunities for such encounters. Holiday service opportunities, if they did exist, were unknown to me. But when a young Nicaraguan boy, after seeing the photos of my own Korean-born children, asked me whether I might adopt him as well, the hook had been set in my heart. My clear belief is that we all need such a hook, not because we are “bad” people ignoring the poor, but because we have not been given the chance to feel the heartbreak of impoverishment in the lives of others. We’re all capable of feeling that connection and these essays are sometimes aimed at exactly that target.
Third, perhaps I am “selling” something, as well. Wrapped up within the emotions and experiences described above is the hope that somehow I might reach someone else who is just like me at that earlier time. That individual has remained insulated from the discomfort of an impoverished world, is someone who could be open to genuinely caring about the fate and future of people unknown to him/her, who simply needs a small push to be jostled from the comfort of a privileged life. Maybe these reflections of mine could motivate even one person to step out from the shadows of insensibility to seize some greater responsibility for a humanity that is in tremendous need, not for solving all of the world’s problems, but for lightening the load for just one other life.
Fourth and finally, these entries are as much for me as they are for you, the readers. Having had the chance to get close to the Nicaraguan reality, I have experienced what many travelers experience when confronting another space in the world. My emotions run the gamut each time I’m in Nicaragua: I see despair, I hear great hope, I observe inspirational perseverance, I am frustrated by our human proclivities and shortsightedness. I am disoriented every time I return to the United States. I need days to step back into the perspective of an affluent North American when I know that I cannot entirely do so, not in light of the circumstances I have just left behind. I order something from an Internet site with little more than a thought, and then find myself weeping at the inequity of being able to do so. I am amazed at what my Nicaraguan connections have taught me, about a different society, alternative ways of looking at our world, our spirituality, our selves. Writing about these juxtapositions is a healthy thing for me, an outlet to expunge some of the conflicting and unresolved emotions that inevitably come with getting close to people who are not just like me. I have experienced more personal questing and growth in the past six years than in the previous twenty, thanks to the wisdom and lives of people whose language I do not even speak. I know the need to express my gratitude and amazement at such an unanticipated transformation.
So there is my motivation for what you read here from time to time. I doubt that it represents great writing, tight strategy, effective philanthropy or even observational sociology. But if it provides even one insight about what is undeniably an injustice to the human condition- and therefore to ourselves- then the writing has been an appropriate use of time. We are capable of being only as well as those who are around us. That wellness is global in its scope and the strengthening begins one at a time….