Saturday, December 26, 2009

Per"Speck"tive During this Holiday Season


Yes, I said perSpecktive, as in my perspective on an event that happened to me a few months ago . I’d like to share this experience with you, during this Holiday Season, as we all celebrate and receive and give gifts and probably experience some slightly un-holiday like feelings about what we've received (or maybe not received) when we compare our booty to that of others.

Some time ago, a very, very sweet friend contacted me to tell me that she had something that she needed to tell me, but that she was afraid it would hurt my feelings. It was clear that she was uncomfortable with the subject matter, but I encouraged her to tell me, promising that there would be no hard feelings on my part, regardless of what was conveyed.

She proceeded to tell me that she had been privy to a conversation (between several ladies that I know) in the recent past, chief topic of which was me. (Come on, ladies, lovely as I am, I can think of several better subjects to occupy your time). In short, here’s what was said to me: This particular group of women had discussed that they would not come to my home because: 1. My house was too small; 2. I lived in a “bad/less-than-desirable” neighborhood; 3. My children did not wear the “right” clothes; and 4. I did not wear the right clothes. And here all this time I thought it was because of my sarcastic nature and warped sense of humor.

I thanked my friend for telling me, and assured her that none of what she had told me came as a surprise. Here’s a newsflash, ladies: Despite the fact that you may have never said any of those things to my face, you’ve communicated it to me non-verbally for some time now. My initial reaction to what had been said to me was—nothing—to not care. The whole “sticks and stones may break my bones . . .” technique.

As the day progressed, I rehashed what my friend had told me. My emotions began to shift. First I was sad, very, very sad. I felt like I was back in high school—being teased because I rode the “blue bus” to school, or because I had to shovel manure on a fairly regular basis on my dad’s farm. And then I began to get depressed, desperate to leave Missouri, feeling trapped in a hostile place. I began to cry. A few hours later, my emotions shifted again, this time to anger and bitterness. Thoughts of slitting tires, Molotov cocktails, and running over cherished pets crossed my mind. Yep, my mind works that way sometimes.

And then the emotions shifted again. I was done. Done. No more, I couldn’t take any more. I wanted to leave Missouri, “Misery” as old friends had teased me when we told them that we were leaving the beach to move out here six years ago. I needed to get out. I had a sling to drop in the mail, so leaving the kids with Adam, I jumped into his truck—ironically nicknamed “Inferno,” as it takes Adam to Hell (his job) and back each day-- and headed out to the post office.

I had intended to fume and fuss and feel sorry for myself during the drive to the post office, but the radio in “Inferno” had been left turned on to K-LOVE. A woman was on the air, and she was talking about how she was “done” with life. I perked up. I had just said those exact words to myself a mere hour ago. She said she was “done” with all the troubles that seemed to keep coming her way. She wanted to leave them all behind, escape. She was “just done.” I began to feel real camaraderie with this unknown woman, she who was commiserating with me in my troubles, whether she knew it or not. And she shared that she was frustrated with herself that she couldn’t respond to her hardships with a better attitude.

She began to elaborate about her troubles. She was “done” with having a head cold. What the flip?? A stupid head-cold? This woman was griping about a head cold?? Good grief, if that’s all she had to complain about in life, I had her beat in life a hundred times over. (And, yes, I think nice Christian thoughts like this frequently). A head cold, for cryin’ out loud. My disgust level rose and my respect for this woman with her imagined hardships in life quickly went down the toilet.

The woman continued on. She was “done” with her wheelchair not working right. Wheelchair?? I choked on my tongue. And she was “done” with her pen jamming up and not working when she was trying to sign books with her pen between her teeth. I think I threw up in my mouth at that point. Suddenly, like a flash of light, I recognized this woman’s voice and her amazing story. Joni Erickson Tada. And for those of you who are not familiar with Joni’s story, you need to read it,

I have never felt so ashamed in my entire life as I did at that moment of recognition. Nothing like a little perspective to pull your head out of your . . . ear. Wow, I didn’t have any problems suddenly. My “wheelchair” isn’t broken; in fact, I don’t have a wheelchair, and I’m blessed to not need one. And my pen works just fine, when I sign my name holding the pen IN MY HAND.

I began to reminisce, to think back over my life, to get myself some more per”SPECK”tive on my current situation. I thought back to a time almost 10 years ago, when I had been blessed enough to be able to work for a Christian organization that flew me all over the world. I remembered back to a period of two weeks in 2000, immediately following the massive conflict that had taken place in Kosova, ripping apart the lives of the people of that country, when I had been privileged to work in a small village, providing medical care to the inhabitants of the village. I remember flying into Macedonia, then driving across the border through the military customs check-point, seeing literally hundreds of thousands of homeless, panic-stricken Kosovars, begging for asylum in a border refugee camp. We drove through the black, starless night, and I remember seeing beautiful homes, belonging to the Kosovar people, in flames. Fire shooting up so high that it surpassed the heights of the massive pine trees found all over the rolling hills. And not a fire engine or fire-fighter in sight. I remember NATO tanks –German units—taking up residence in “our” village due to the fighting that was still going on. I remember lying on my mat on the floor at night, attempting to sleep, hearing nothing but constant fire-fighting behind the building we were housed in, as soon as the sun went down each night. I remember the smell of rotting bodies wafting through the air, and then attending a funeral for an Albanian military commander who had been killed during our time in Kosova. I can smell the stench of those rotting corpses still, as if it had just been yesterday. I remembered walking through the “Gypsy” part of the village, forced to hop over rivers of raw sewage that ran freely through the village. Per”Speck”tive--No, I don’t live in a “bad” neighborhood.

I remembered traveling to southern India late in 1999. I remember caring for a little boy, about 7-years-old, who had a massive cleft lip and palate (due to poor nutrition during pregnancy). He was an outcast in his village. He would never hold a job, would never get married, would never even go to school, all because of his obvious deformity. The BBC was with us, filming about the lives of some the children in these poverty-stricken villages. I fell in love with this little guy, his sweet, gentle spirit, his ready smile, despite his lack of upper lip and jaw. I knew nothing of this village where he lived, as my job kept me some miles from his home, all I knew of him was what I learned during his time with me pre- and post-operatively. The BBC film crew traveled out to this little guy’s village to find him, as he neglected to show up on the day he was scheduled for surgery, the surgery that would change his life. Praise the Lord, they were able to find him and rushed him back to me to prep him for surgery. Imagine my delight when the BBC film crew presented me with a copy of their completed video. But imagine my shock when I saw for the first time where this little boy had lived, his home. His home was nothing more than a 10’x10’, maybe a 12’x12’ square room made out of crumbling cinder blocks. His family was large, quite large, and as I watched the video, I saw them sitting on the filthy dirt floor of their home, crowding aside to let the BBC film crew in to capture their poverty for all posterity. I saw this same little guy attempting to eat his one daily meal—rice—shoveling the food into his broken mouth with his filthy hands, the grains of rice falling out of the holes in his face onto the floor, chickens wandering in and out of the house, snatching up the bounty, I imagine. I still consider that video one of my most cherished possessions. Per”Speck”tive-- No, my house isn’t “too small.”

Must I go on?? I have memories of leaving all my clothing and shoes but what I was wearing with families in Ecuador, Brazil, Mexico, Gaza, Kenya, the Philippines, you name the country, because they had ONE SET OF CLOTHES. Per”Speck”tive—the clothes that my kids and I wear, despite their lack of proper “taggage,” are perfect, and considering that we all own vastly more than one set of clothing each, we are overloaded with clothing. I remember eating at a small sidewalk café in the mountains of a village in Bolivia, and watching an entire family walk silently and humbly amidst all of us sitting at the tables, a plastic bag in their hands. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing. They were making me uncomfortable, with all their dirtiness, their ragged clothing, their obvious poverty. I had no spare change to give them, I wanted them to go away from me. And then I gained per”Speck”tive, as I watched them rush to a table that had just seconds ago been vacated by a café patron. The family quickly scraped the refuse of the diner’s meal off the plate . . . and into their plastic bag. They were getting their supper. Feeding their many cold, hungry children. I couldn’t look them in the eye. Suffice it to say none of us were able to finish our meals, we all left our food nearly untouched for these starving people.

Perspective, or in my case, per”Speck”tive, can sure shed light on a situation. My wheelchair isn’t broken; my pen works just fine; there are not any military vehicles in my neighborhood; I don’t hear gunshots behind my home each night; there isn’t any sewage free-flowing through my town; I’ve never once smelled a rotting body during any of my walks through our neighborhood; my kids have faces and bodies that are fully and beautifully intact; my home, albeit small, is significantly larger than that of my little Indian friend; I have plenty of clothes to wear and to put on my children; and I can safely say that despite how tight our budget is, despite how we often wonder where the next meal will come from, I have never had to scrape food off a restaurant-goer’s plate to provide a meal for my family.

Perspective. It sure can change things. And, ladies, you’re still welcome to come to my home, I’ll even make a pot of coffee, Rhode Island style, if you can stand it.

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