I’ve been thinking lately about how much I like to write and about the release and healing I experience after just a few hours of unloading the week’s experiences on paper. How many Saturday mornings have I spent in pajamas buzzing on my third cup of coffee, bathing in a Mahler symphony and carefully shaping thoughts and memories and ideas with my fingers? I keep most of my writing hidden away in my computer in a folder called “personal,” but I am becoming aware that I won’t grow as a writer until I start taking risks and getting some of my stuff out there. So here is my first offering, some thoughts that I wrote on March 7, 2010. The context of this piece is a modern shopping mall in Chisinau called Malldova where I was searching for a suit to wear to my friend Andrew’s wedding, a suit which I did eventually purchase, which I did wear to his wedding and which I will also wear to a certain special event that will take place in just 76 days….
Walking around Malldova last night was a strangely humanizing and yet unusually disturbing experience. There were hundreds of people out for a good time, perusing the designer clothing stores, enjoying a game of bowling or pool, sitting down with a book at Diverta or enjoying Japanese cuisine with two chopsticks in hand. It felt so surprisingly normal: the cleanliness, the expensive and desirable clothing, the families out together on a Saturday night. An echo from my past, these surroundings offered a peculiarly welcoming sense of comfort. Browsing the Apple store—a replica of the Apple store in Nashville–felt so familiar, so ordinary.
But in the back of my mind were haunting images. The children we met on Wednesday in a village outside of Chisinau are just a few kilometers away, living in devastating poverty, not knowing what the future holds for them. While the wealthy peruse the shelves of Fourschette supermarket and choose a pair of designer Levi’s, these children cry out for justice, for an ear to hear them, for an embrace to assure them that they are not forgotten.
In that moment it was so easy to be overwhelmed by the disparity in Moldova, by the richest of the rich living next to and among the poorest of the poor. The contrast seemed too great, too vast to reconcile. But then I realized that our world really is so small. Is the distance of 30 kilometers that separates Malldova from the village we visited Wednesday so much less than the distance that separates Cool Springs, Tennessee from a village with no clean water in Africa? We’re all so interconnected, aren’t we?
I realized again yesterday that I am wealthy, that I like nice things and that I experience a consoling familiarity when I am among the rich. I love drowning in the scent of a coffee shop and sporting nice clothing and losing myself for hours in any bookstore. But this familiarity that embraces me is also agonizing and particularly disturbing. I barely slept last night as I thought about the $300 I intend to spend on an Italian suit. I say that I want to live in solidarity with the poor, and yet I sincerely think that I am just kidding myself.
Sure, I have made concrete changes in my life recently in my pursuit of simplicity. I don’t have a car, I strictly limit my monthly food budget and my salary is only a tiny fraction of what it used to be. But I still have a US passport, a credit card and a support account that allows me to reimburse such “necessities” as books and a laptop computer and international plane tickets.
As always, I return again to the ideals of justice and equality. Is it wrong to eat at a nice restaurant or to own a $300 suit? No, not necessarily. But how do I make these kinds of decisions with the knowledge that there are literally thousands of people who will die today because they have no access to clean water or to basic medical care? Why is it that an hour in a coffee shop or browsing a mall seems so life-giving to me? Will I ever be found among the poor, in solidarity? Or will I always be the oppressor? Can I buy this suit with the full knowledge that the poor are in our midst, right here, crying out for justice? What is my response to their cry? What am I doing to fight for equality and peace and new creation? Or am I just perpetuating the brokenness of the world into which I was born?