Friday, February 16, 2007

Moments of Truth and Learning

Every once in a while I have run smack dab into an incident that has broadened my viewpoint of the world and of other people.

When I was a child, my father had some health problems and some serious surgery. Although my parents didn’t share the details of their finances with me, it was obvious that we lived from paycheck to paycheck during the good times, when we would occasionally shop at the Good Will Store. When Dad was sick, my mother’s extreme frugalness was an important asset. I remember at Christmas time, we were the recipient of the charity of a group that helps out people in need. I remember receiving a new blouse from them with mixed emotions.

I know that period of time strengthened me, helped me make some sound frugal decisions later in life, and it also gave me a heart for the feelings of people in need. I learned well the difference between need and want.

When we were waiting for our foreign exchange student to arrive, we read the essays and questionnaires he had filled out. We thought we understood some of the information he had provided. Well, the information turned out to be literally true, but we missed the meaning by 180 degrees. When we later visited his country, we encountered places and situations and emotions that can’t be translated into words. Examples: imagine being among 11 million people living in the city that is physically the same square miles as a city in the US with, perhaps, one million people. What does it mean to have a “home” in such a city? And how is it that the teens go out and about on the busses and subways on their own for over 12-14 hours/day, everywhere, and the parents just accept that as natural?

While I know that I can be quite self-assured in my opinions, when I step back and reflect on these experiences, I try to remember to be more humble in thinking that I have the “right” interpretation of anything another person says or writes. For me, this also includes the meaning of Biblical passages. Sincere believers have come up with different (human) interpretations of scripture. The Pharisees sincerely knew their scriptures and tradition, but they missed the Christ in their sincerity and self-assured interpretation.

My very recent experiences with having a frozen sewer system and compromised water system has brought me face to face with a number of other people in the same boat when I go to the laundromat. [Since we’re in a severe drought, I guess that boat isn’t floating.] But, I had forgotten that there still are people who live without running water due to poverty. And there are people who are/will be in an expensive jam whenever we finally get thawed out. New sewer systems probably cost as much as $15,000. Can a person afford to be a strict environmentalist, following all the regulations, when you don’t have that kind of money? What laws and regulations can you break and still consider yourself a good citizen?

I am contemplating a trip later in the year to a country where I don’t expect to have the benefit of electricity, running water, flush toilets, or any other convenience that I take for granted. I guess I’m in boot camp training for the next few months.

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