Perspective

Privilege is a headache
that you don’t know that you don’t have.
(Ani DiFranco, “Shroud”)

My day began with coffee and donuts and ended with cold pizza.

—-

The coffee and donuts (purchased for $1 each from the sketchy donut shop around the corner) were consumed on porch steps, sitting with my boyfriend, enjoying the morning sunshine.

Next door is a youth home for teenage boys, one of whom was pacing in front of the house, talking loudly on his cell phone. He was clearly upset: you could hear the rising desperation in his voice as he pleaded with the person on the other end. A woman, I assumed. He’s on the phone a lot, upset a lot. I made a comment about how astronomical his phone bill must be.

And he says desolate into the phone: “You should have at least told me before you got the abortion! I didn’t even get to have an opinion.”

And my heart sinks for this kid, for his girlfriend, for the baby they weren’t having. For the life they weren’t having. We go inside to give him some privacy.

—-

The pizza was consumed in a dingy office building in downtown Oakland. This was my first night volunteering for an organization that helps immigrant women start their own businesses.

“I don’t have much to offer,” I said over the phone when I signed up to volunteer. “I know how to use Word, if that helps.”

So this evening, I sat with these women, one-by-one, and helped them create 3-month budgets for their dream businesses: cleaning companies, bakeries, and salons. Speaking to me in broken English, they marveled at my ability to type with both hands and use Google. Beautiful women, with exotic names and hopeful dreams and far-away families.

“You’re an angel,” one of them says to me. Another hands me a Chinese knot, a “small gift” she says. She is handing them out to the students in the class, for good luck. I try to decline: I don’t need luck. But she insists and I take it home.

—-

My life has felt tough lately. I’m unemployed, uninsured, and I’ve been couch surfing for months. I don’t have a plan; I don’t have savings. I’m battling boredom, discouragement, and loneliness. I get frustrated when my bike tires are out of air, or I have to wait my turn to use the washing machine, or when the bottom of my pants get wet in the rain.

It is so easy to get insulated by my own tragedy, to numb myself to the spinning world around me. But tonight, before I sleep, I cry for a while. I am grieving unfairness, injustice, suffering, lack of possibility, hopelessness… but not only for myself this time.

Perspective is presence, like waking up. Perspective is invitation, engagement, a call to change. And I am painfully grateful for mine today.

—-

What experiences, big or small, have reminded you to be present and engaged? What pains are you grieving, for yourself or others, right now? How do you keep perspective in a suffering world?

Sharing today with brothers & sisters…

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19 Comments

Filed under Ethics, Musings

19 responses to “Perspective

  1. thank you for using what you have to touch lives though…i am sure to the ladies it will make all the difference…and maybe as you step out it will show you your way…

  2. I’ve struggled a lot lately with feeling guilty about how worn down I am. I have slight symptoms of PTSD, am lethargic and not making good decisions and, most frightening at all, finding that almost all human beings irritate me. Eek. The guilt comes from the realisation that the people around me – maybe not my direct sphere of influence but definitely the next link of connections away – struggle with so so so much more than I do. Death, starvation, etc. I think that I should stand tall and not be bothered by the ‘little things’ that have made my life tough. But I’m learning, little by little, that it doesn’t work that way. That my path is my path, your path is your path, and that lovely Chinese immigrant woman’s path is her own too. I guess you already have a good perspective, but I hope you are also able to be patient with yourself and the world around you and enjoy the cry…

    • Yes, Kati. I love your comments here… Our paths are our own, and there is no prize for suffering the “most.” It makes sense for us to experience the pains in our own lives. Thanks also for the reminder to be patient with myself! I think grieving is important, so we don’t become hardened or desensitized, but I also think that celebration (of even the small things) is important. I’m so glad you come by here… you are in my thoughts lately!

  3. I spend too much time worrying about the future. Then I watch the news, and that puts my life into perspective. Compared with so many people in the world, I have a lot to be grateful for.

    • Gratitude can be such a cure for worry, yes? But that news is a tricky thing… it can bring numbness and discouragement, or it can bring perspective and motivation.

  4. this resonates deeply. i, too, get so consumed by the pettiest of frustrations and desperately need to open eyes wider.

    may this season end soon for you. those in between times are so hard, especially when thing don’t seem to be moving forward and we don’t feel the way we *should*. may God’s great shalom envelop you.

    (ani is quite the prophet, always!)

    • Oh, Suzannah, thank you for your thoughtful comments! I’m so glad you came by to read. I feel like the in-between times are such a space for growth and learning! I much appreciate the shalom!
      I also appreciate finding another Ani fan out there! She is indeed a prophet and a poet!

  5. keeping your heart soft, aware, is a great way to keeping the right perspective. so many times the hardest times to go through are the times of the greatest growth. though i don’t ask for them, i am always grateful for them on the other side.

    • Definitely!! I totally agree. Those times are so formative and important. I often think of how I will look back on this period of my life with gratitude.

  6. Some type of suffering is going to hit us all, at one time or another if it has not already; in fact, not to sound “negative” but could this really be the norm; we tend to think of it flipped, as if life is supposed to smooth and easy and wonderful and when bad things happen, we ask why (and I have most certainly done this). Yet, my life lived to this point has taught me that these are the teachable moments that God uses in our lives and what draws us closer to Him. I tend to want to run from suffering, but scripture tells me to consider it a joy, and it will fashion me more into Christ’s likeness. Still, I’m not out looking for it . 🙂
    Indeed sometimes our sorrows look petty and shallow when others around are suffering much more deeply– and I do think that is true. But, I also agree with Kati above. We each walk a different path. When reading Kati’s and your post, this scripture comes to mind:
    Every valley shall be raised up,
    every mountain and hill made low;
    the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
    Isaiah 40:4
    Only God can make sense out of it, and one day He will make all things right and well and the way they are supposed to be.
    Those women will not forget you. Your actions spoke loudly of “love” to them.

    • Mmm, I love the reminder that the scriptural perspective is that suffering can be an opportunity to reflect a strong, faithful heart. Reminds me of another line from that Ani song:
      “and whoever said that life is suffering
      i think they had their finger on the pulse of joy
      ain’t the power of transcendence
      the greatest one we can employ”
      And what I love about that Isaiah passage you shared is that it’s so radical! God is making a way though the seemingly impossible… I would never be able to level mountains and raise valleys on my own. Those images say something so important about the power of God to create change in our lives and world. Thanks for bringing them here, Anna!

  7. Insulated by our own tragedies – sadly so true. I have realized how easy it is to let this happen. “Perspective is invitation, engagement, a call to change.” – beautiful truth

  8. So poetic … I love the last two sentences. I try to laugh at the malfunction of the universe. How else am I to get through it all and say that “tomorrow is another day.” Thank you for sharing a day in your life.

    • I like your phrase “malfunction of the universe.” Some days can certainly feel like that, yes? But tomorrow is indeed another day: mercies are new every morning. Thanks for coming by to share in my day!

  9. I get frustrated when my bike tires are out of air, or I have to wait my turn to use the washing machine, or when the bottom of my pants get wet in the rain.

    you don’t know what comfort i found in this. and that you sometimes cry yourself to sleep too… you are not alone friend. and what an incredible post; i love the juxtaposition of stories…

    • Lately life has felt like a series of juxtaposed stories for me. Being able to connect the fragments has revealed a lot of wisdom… the small, sneaking kind of wisdom that settles into your heart when you’re not looking. I’m grateful for that, even though it challenges me. Thanks for being here, Emily.

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