Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Life of Comfort

After reading the blog of a kindred spirit and phenomenal woman, and thinking on the topic of comfort for weeks now, I decided to finally get it out of my mind and on . . . paper. . . this screen, that is.

As I watch many of my friends happily settle in to the life of comfort, I find myself wondering why it is that I find this type of life so unattractive. I mean, let's face it, life would be much easier if all I wanted was a husband to love on, a house to make it in, and kids to carry my love forward long after I am gone. My mom half jokingly laments that I don't have these simple goals. She reminds me that if it were so, she wouldn't have to worry about me in dangerous places or not having an income and all those other stabilities; she could just hop in her air conditioned, cushioned vehicle, drive to the neighboring town, help me raise my children, and grow old with me. We could live in a bubble, happily ever after. I understand the appeal and perhaps could have succumbed to it, but I got a taste of all that could be. Life could be bigger than any adjectives in my vocabulary . . . if I were willing to give up comfort and ease.

I have to help make the world a better place and won't rest until I feel like I've given it all I can. Yes, it's a goal that, in the strictest sense, will end in "failure," because the world will never change. No matter how hard I fight, there will always be poverty, war, death, genocide, corruption, greed, natural disasters and rape. So then, as some people ask, what's the point? Why not just realize the fruitlessness of these goals and live for a family? Raise a family well and live in peace. A life of peace and comfort.

Because the best kind of peace is hard earned. The best kind of peace, the kind that lets your soul finally rest, follows hard, long battles. Comfort can't be appreciated until you've gone so long without it you've forgotten how it feels. Because I feel most alive when I have no idea what awaits me and I have to think on my feet. When every day is a challenge, I constantly grow. I am a permanent child, filled with exuberance for life, in anticipation of what is next because there is always a next. There is always a curve ahead when you push limits. When you welcome, even look forward to struggle, life is one long adventure. Life is learning, continually expanding. Because there is no glorious height like knowing you have accomplished something you previously thought impossible.

Because life is so big, so huge, and now that I know, I can't live just one little shred of it.

Climb a mountain, jump out of a plane, run a marathon, fight a war, bike across the country, sail around the world, sell the clutter in your house and build an orphanage, struggle for a noble cause, turn your creativity into an art or business, turn dreams into reality, do whatever they tell you is impossible . . . and feel the burn of being truly alive. I have my doubts as to whether a life of routine and comfort can make my body and soul ache with so much life.

I once read that there are two types of people in this world. Most people live their life in the gray - life is not really great but it's also not really bad. There aren't any horribly painful moments, but there also aren't any blissfully happy ones. They live on a certain level and never depart from the track. Then there are those who choose to open themselves fully to the bad and the good, to all the depths each direction can take them. They don't shy away from awful pain because they know it will be followed by dizzying heights. They live in black and white.

I opt for the lifestyle that sends ripples through my soul. The closest to God I can feel on earth - whether it's on my knees in pain, or crying from joy. I want to be repeatedly shaken by life. I don't want to have to drink to feel high. I want life's experiences to make me tingle inside.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Immeasurable Prosperity

What a wonderful summer it has been for me. I'm only working 40 hours a week, sometimes less, and making great money. I have enough downtime to read for hours without end, enjoy the sun's rays, sleep in and fit in long runs 4 times a week. I am definitely living the easy life.

This morning I woke up early to fit in an 8 mile run, stopped by the grocery store on my way home, walked the mile home with my arms full of bags, made a huge breakfast with coffee and juice and sprawled out over the newspaper to read of the world's woes while I rested in comfort. The only "struggle" of my day - running - was one I chose. How wild that I have been born into a life where I get to choose my struggles. One in which I opt and actively seek out degrees of hardship.

In this same morning, I also gave in to looking up round trip tickets to the nearest rough-around-the-edges country where I could escape from the modernity that allots me the former daily routine. Such contradictions. I have the economic freedom to put myself amid lives marred by unchosen, sometimes extremely wretched, struggle for as long as I see fit, get back on the vessel of modernity and return to the relative ease that the industrialized world cushions me in.

Choice. For the most part, I can choose the kind of life I want. Very few other countries in the world offer that to their inhabitants. I choose how to expend my calories, pass my hours, spend my money. As I read the book "Development as Freedom," by Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, I am more convinced that choice is at the heart of development. Choice is what I wish for the people I've met in the hills of Nicaragua, the shanty towns of Ciudad de Juarez, and the slums of Buenos Aires.

I want the little girl from Hilapo Dos whose long silk-like hair, big eyes, coffee skin and bashful smile pulled me out of myself to be able to choose between babies and books. I don't will her to have all the choices I do, for then she would only be confused and overwhelmed, but I want her to know the delight in choosing which path she shall take at life's forks. I want there to be a fork in her road. I want her to discover that not only does she love her boyfriend and native village, but she loves the way she feels after solving a difficult math problem, passing her knowledge on to a class of children, or turning her entreprenuerial ideas into a small business. I want her to feel, however fleeting the moment, that she can shape the small world around her.

When I think about choice as a measure of prosperity rather than GDP, unemployment rates, fiscal deficit or any of the other numbers we have become narrowly focused on, I realize that while times are numerically hard in our country, we are still free. We all still have a choice. Even the begging guy on the corner who has been evicted from his home has a choice. He doesn't have to stand there because there are numerous homeless shelters with a bed and a meal for him. He doesn't have to starve. The single mom with three kids and not enough money to pay the bills isn't without hope. There are non profits everywhere that exist solely to help people like her. Our government even has a system designed to help her. There are jobs that don't require complex skill sets that offer employment. Our economy, no matter how sickly, accomodates everyone.

On the other side of the spectrum, walk into the wrong zone in a war torn country, choose a religion, cross the wrong person in power, unknowingly build your hut over an oil reserve, demand rights, or sometimes just be the unlucky ethnicity at the time . . . and face certain death.

So even when life's choices become heavy, say divorcing a spouse and splitting up a family or spending life less happy than we had hoped, remember, we still have a choice. There are women in this world who would be murdered for that choice.