Adjusting to My Life of Privilege.

SONY DSC

 

I could see it on some of the faces I met. It was that look of bewilderment or possibly even a mild disgust. The look conveyed an inability to understand my life of extravagance. It was a look that I knew all too well. . . . not from seeing it . . it was a look I had worn myself at times.

I’m not a rich person, not here in America. My income is well short of breaking into six digits. I’m like everyone else I know who looks at the Bill Gates of the world and can’t understand why anyone would need to accumulate that much wealth. I can reason that Bill Gates has earned his money and does, in fact, give away vast amounts of it. But despite my best efforts, I catch myself in moments of resentment over him having it. Sometimes I catch myself complaining that I don’t have enough. Now, as I stood in Swaziland, Africa, I found myself being viewed with that same look of not understanding my wealth . . . I had suddenly become Bill Gates.

I own seven pairs of shoes. There are two pairs of sneakers (One normal and one pair of Chuck Taylor’s), work boots, a pair of hiking boots, my funeral/wedding shiny shoes, my winter boots, and a pair of flip flops. I don’t think my shoe owning is excessive. By many people’s standards here in the US, my shoe collection is quite modest. Bill Gates probably owns a hundred pairs of shoes. Now I found myself standing before people who owned a single pair of shoes that left their toes visible through holes worn from years of use . . . or people who owned no shoes at all.

My house is small and crappy. We barely have places to keep all our stuff. Yet, when I compared my house to the one I was invited into in Manzini, my house seemed like a palace. I had running water in my house, and a flushing toilet, heat, air conditioning, kitchen appliances. I realized that I had been taking mundane things like carpet, socks, paper towel and my seven pairs of shoes for granted. Most people here have none of these luxuries.

SONY DSC

Houses here in Swaziland are simple concrete or block structures, often without windows . . . unless you are visiting a shanty town, and then they are made of garbage. Most don’t have running water, or electricity. Many don’t have a stove to cook on.

SONY DSC

As Americans, we’ve all said, or nodded in agreement, how fortunate we are to live where we live and have what we have. For me, I don’t think I really knew what that meant until I was in Africa. I was now looking at what these statements really mean, with my own eyes. I now had a new definition for the term “life of privilege”.

I’m not going to tell anyone they should change their opinions on the Bill Gates of the world. Like I’ve said, I’ve had those thoughts myself at times. What I am saying is that we should at least be consistent with our opinions of wealthy people. If you want to hold contempt for someone who owns a hundred pair of shoes instead of seven, please feel free, but don’t turn around and take offense to someone with no shoes finding the same lack of understanding for someone who owns seven pairs. If I’m going to suggest that there is something wrong with Mr. Gates net worth, I have to accept that through the eyes of others, there is something wrong with mine. I might not be a billionaire, but there are plenty of places in the world where I can go to be considered filthy rich.

 

. . . . .

Compassionate Life Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides funding for the El Shaddai Orphanage, and CLF student center in Swaziland.

SONY DSC

Our ordinary Sunday morning requires an extraordinary wife.

Clack, clack, clack, clack . . .

The sound of my daughter’s plastic, sparkly pretty princess heels echoed throughout the sanctuary as she proudly walked down the aisle of the church to our usual seats.

“Heh-heh,” my neighbor Robert, who also attended our church, chuckled as Hannah clack-clacked past. It was almost certain that he had also heard the morning battle over wearing the clack-clack shoes and a bright green Frog Princess dress instead of the flower print dress that my wife had chosen for my obstinate child. Our houses were fairly close together and our windows were open to let in the warm summer air . . . . and our loud arguments out.

“SHUT UP ROBERT!” I sneered in a whisper-shout, “I remember your kid coming to church with a guinea pig in his coat pocket.”

Robert rolled his eyes but remained silent (probably embarrassed as he was remembering the uproar caused by the stowaway rodent escaping and nibbling on the elderly organ player’s open toed shoes).

We were late as usual. Back when God was formulating the intricate workings of the Universe, he had decreed that our family would never, ever, under any circumstance be on time for his own worship service. . . . . well, with the exception of the one Sunday a year when Daylight Savings gives us an extra hour . . . . and even then, we barely make it on time.

On most Sundays, my wife prompts us to hide with our two daughters in the back reception area and wait for the congregation to stand and sing a hymn so we can slip into our pew with less attention being drawn to our lateness. But on this particular Sunday, the fight over my daughter’s costume/fashion choice left us even later than usual. There were no hymns left to provide cover for our sneaking in. With a few condemning stares and smiles being shot at us, we found our usual seats and sat down.

My wife began digging items out of her Sunday morning purse, which was a normal purse by all purse standards, but was filled with carefully selected child silencing items. There were crayons, mints, paper to draw on, miniature animal and doll figures, and for emergency measures, a small hand-held video game unit with the speaker ripped out.

Sitting next to us this particular morning was Sister Edna, and elderly widowed church member who would often punctuate the pastor’s sermon points by interjecting “In the NAME of JESUS!”

The girls settled into their coloring and playing with their small toys as Pastor Phil began delivering his Sermon. Right on cue, Sister Edna began letting out “In the Name of JESUS” whenever Pastor Phil made a point that seemed to warrant it.

I listened to the sermon as best I could between whisper shouting at my girls for fighting over toys. Natalie had also picked up echoing Sister Edna’s “In the name of Jesus” utterings.

“I have to go poopy.” Hannah said in a voice that was audible to everyone around.

My wife gasped.

“IN the NAME of JESUS,” Natalie added to Hannah’s poop declaration.

Several heads turned in our direction; some of the heads had faces adorned with frowns.

Sister Edna looked at Natalie and smiled.

My wife quickly opened the roll of breath mints that was in her Sunday morning purse and gave each girl two of them. This seemed to keep the girls quiet.

Pastor Phil continued with his sermon on the plagues that were inflicted upon Egypt by God for refusing to let Moses and his people go. There was the plague of lice and one of sores on the people. There were frogs . . . . . I saw a frog in the ditch in front of our house yesterday while I was mowing. In fact, I almost hit the poor thing with my mower. I think it was a momma frog by the way—–

Realizing that my mind had wandered off a bit, I snapped back to listening to Pastor Phil and his sermon.

The sermon continued. Moses was apparently persistent, and Pastor Phil talked about the continuance of plagues. Fiery hailstones, water turning to blood, locusts . . . . billions of locust . . . .swarming everywhere. . . . . like the billions of hornets that came out of a hole in the ground near my shed. The hornets were like a plague. . . . a buzzing, stinging plague. In fact, one of them even stung my first born, Hannah. . . . . kind of like a double plague. But Robert and I had filled a squirt bottle with gas and constructed a makeshift flame thrower of sorts. We covered ourselves in snowmobile suites and motorcycle helmets to act as beekeepers outfits. Then with a shovel, we scooped out a crater where the hole once was and began administering the flames of Hell up on the locust. . . . I mean hornets. Suddenly I felt the intense burning pain of a hornet stinging my back. One of the little devils had apparently breeched my snowmobile suit.

“AHHH, He’s Got Me!” I screamed,”WHACK THE BASTARD WITH THE SHOVEL, ROBERT!!!!!!”

. . . . . I suddenly became aware of my surroundings.

I was standing in the aisle of our church sanctuary, swatting at imaginary hornets. I had just finished screaming, “whack the bastard with a shovel, Robert”. All eyes in the now silent church were on me. Apparently my mind had wandered off again. . . . I might have even been dreaming a bit.

My wife was horrified.

Natalie let out a “In the NAME of JESUS!”

This is where a normal family would have been shamed into quitting the church and never showing their faces there again for the rest of eternity. But my wife was seasoned at covering for our family’s, well, eccentricities. I knew that she would have an explanation for my ridiculous behavior, something like lack of sleep or perhaps the improper dosage of cold medicine. And I also knew that she would expertly plant her slightly exaggerated explanation in several conversation circles that were formed by the wives and mothers of the congregation when the service had concluded.

She had become so good at it, that I would probably end up getting words of sympathy and encouragement from church members instead of condemnations for my unruly outburst.

We are fortunate. My wife knows that despite the outcome, the girls and I have good intentions, and she has our backs no matter how absurd our behavior becomes.