In last-minute fashion, I met with my friend Ben yesterday. Ben lives in Southern California. I happened to be in Southern California for three weeks, but somehow, catch-up coffee did not happen until a few hours before I was supposed to leave for the airport. Hum.
Over decaf, Ben asked me about the contrast between Southern California opulence and the poverty of the city where I made my home last fall. That Ben, he asks some tricky questions. Now, I allow this question--and its multiple answers--to run wild in the privacy of my own mind, but inviting it into the wide, open public makes me a bit uncomfortable. Like I might say things that offend people. Like I might make brash, sweeping judgments that I am not yet ready to adhere to myself. Like if we let this question join us at our comfy two-person Starbucks table, he might begin to flail his arms and make a rucus. I fell silent. I thought for a minute. I resorted to a sensible answer. (Read: "avoid-big-waves answer.")
"Well," I said. "Kolkata and Southern California are very different. I've found it's too hard to live in a constant state of comparision. I have to accept them as two different worlds and try to live my best in each of them."
There is a bit of truth to that, I think. But I think I might have also given the cop-out answer. The problem with completely compartmentalizing my Indian world and my American world is that, very likely, I will forget whichever world is least convienent and most uncomfortable. India, for those of you still wondering.
I don't want to be the nagging voice which constantly reminds others of the disparity between what they own and what most of the world does not own. We know we're wealthy, here in America. It's not that we don't know. We know, and we want to maintain that wealth. Because that "other world," that peculiar and distant world that could sneak into our hearts if we took a look at its hands and feet, feels so very far away.
I will be the first in the line of people who don't really want to make a change if personal comfort or independence are going to be the opportunity cost. That's why the answer I gave Ben is so nice for me. That answer is my good friend when I buy things I don't need. It's my buddy when I start scheming on how I can live a swanky life again. And it sings me a lullaby when I close my eyes to what I have seen and drift off to sleep.
I don't know what answer I should have given Ben instead. But I don't want complacency to be my co-pilot.
What I am going to do? How am I going to live? I am simultaneously excited and scared to have a seat in the classroom of daily American life. I will be here for a bit, as far as I can see. We will see what the Teacher says. He is surely relevant to Missouri 2008, the Jewish Rabbi who is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation."
Oh Jesus. Have your way in our hearts, and let us see that You are the wealth we truly desire.
"...that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." -Colossians 2:2-3