Sunday, June 29, 2008

A society insulated...from itself

We’re crouched on the floor playing with little dinosaurs, fake trees, and a hollow plastic mountain. The kid is telling me all the dinos’ names: Spotty Blue, T-Rex, Triceratops (who is always female), and then he proceeds to name the mountain: “This is Silver Mountain.”

“Oh really? Well, perhaps the dinosaurs live on Silver Mountain,” I say. “Maybe WE live on Silver Mountain.”

“No, we don’t,” he chuckles. “That’s silly. People don’t live on mountains; people live on roads.”

“Sure they do, honey. People live on mountains. Some people live on mountains where there are no roads.” The boy stares at me, disbelieving what I’m saying. I can see the thoughts zooming through his newly aware brain. How could that be? People live where there are no roads? How do they get there? How do they get anywhere else?

And it’s kind of funny that he thinks this, but also a bit vexing.

I can still recall my genuine shock when, many years ago, I drove through some very rural areas of West Virginia. I was looking out the car window at real shacks, the kinds of places I had only heard about, no glass in windows, tiny ramshackle structures with unkempt and inadequately clothed children spilling out the doors and off the sagging porch. Buildings that in any other setting would have been condemned. Buildings that you suspected had no running water, no electricity. Oh my Lord, I was thinking. People actually live this way even in this day and age. And those were the dwelling places on the “hard road.” Who knows what I’d have found if I’d stopped the car and taken a hike into the “holler”?

It was the first time I’d really grasped the concept of poverty. And it was only a glimpse. I get citified glimpses sometimes when I make wrong turns in our own little urban jungle, ending up in unfamiliar neighborhoods that often feel unfriendly. I’ve seen those same buckling buildings, the same glassless windows, and the same vacant faces looking back at me. Sometimes they are angry faces; they know I’m a poser in their world, that I have the choice to leave—a choice that eludes many of the permanent residents in such places.

It makes me realize how spoiled I am, how absurd and silly are most of the concerns of my day. And this is nothing. I’ve talked to people who’ve ventured into REAL poverty—in other countries, especially. What I’m calling poverty here? Well, from my understanding, what I’m talking about would likely appear comfortably well off to people who are really, truly poor.

Todd has spoken of participating in a missions trip someday, and I have to admit I change the subject when he brings it up. I’m afraid. I’m honestly afraid to have my eyes opened that wide. Once they gaze upon some of that down-and-dirty, international poverty, I don’t think they’ll ever be the same. And this idea is coming from my husband, who dreams of a cabin in the woods, a nice fishing boat. I’m the girl who’d love to call several bucolic acres my own someday in which to hide. If we let our eyes be opened, really opened wide, will we still be able to enjoy those extravagances? Or will they seem fatuous and self-centered?

And how do we reveal this realistic and all-encompassing worldview to a little boy who, for all general purposes, is a typical kid in suburban America…a kid who has no idea that people live on mountains?

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