Most people have at some point wondered what they would take to a deserted island or what kind of items would be most important to them if they had to give everything up. I don’t think people in modern, first world countries really understand what it means to have nothing except pride and honor.
Let me give you an example. Say, for instance, that I asked you to close your eyes and picture a farm. Pretend that this farm has been in your family for generations and that you’ve grown up your whole life, just knowing this farm. You get up early and take care of a growing list of never-ending chores, perhaps have a quick breakfast before doing more chores, and eventually when the sun sets, you participate in a simple meal with your family before crawling into bed and doing the whole thing all over again, all day, every day, for your entire existence. Would you fight for your farm? Would you do everything in your power to keep that farm for your children?
Admit it, when I asked you to visualize a farm, you thought about a beautiful, classic ranch house amongst fields of green wheat or corn, waving gently in the wind. You thought about tractors and cows, maybe a beat-up pickup truck that you use to drive down a dirt road to get the mail from the box at the end of miles of fields. You thought about fluffy clouds floating across a baby-blue sky with a red barn framed in the sun.
Just a hint – that’s not the farm I’m talking about.
I’m talking about a farm, cut from the rock face of a mountain, with years of labor put just into making irrigation channels and a mud hut barely big enough to fit a multi-purpose table. There’s no kitchen, not the way we would think of it. There’s no clean metal sink with running water. If you want water, you have to hike 1,000 feet down the mountain and haul it back up using only your own body. There’s no microwave, no stove, no fridge. You work all day in blistering heat and unbelievable humidity, only to barely find and make enough food to feed your family. And you get to do all this in maybe three different outfits and no shoes. Every day. There are so many rocks in your farm that you use them to build just about everything from walls to recreation areas. When I say recreation areas, I mean you build piles of rocks and then create a game where you try and knock over as many of the rocks with as few throws as possible. You have nothing except what you fight every inch for, every scrap of land and every crop a battle.
But those of us who are privileged enough to live in first world countries don’t really have to worry about that. Even when we say we have nothing, we still have a lot more than many other people. We have running water and electricity, and both of these things are taken so much for granted that most are more willing to complain about having a small plasma television instead of thinking about how grateful they should feel just to have a solid roof over their heads.
The interesting part about travelling to places such as this research trip is that you really find out what matters the most to you. Do you miss your television? Your fast food restaurants? Or do you miss family and friends, and think of all the things you could have and should have done in order to be better parts of their lives? Do you miss out on weddings and birthdays, winter holidays and other celebrations? How do you balance all the things you should be grateful for with all the things you don’t have, such as the people who matter most in your life? You live every day without things that everyone you know takes for granted. You don’t have access to abundant amounts of food, or entertainment, or indoor plumbing. All you have to cling to are those things that people choose to include you in. Letters, cards, packages. Little things that make life a little easier, but still not the same as being able to actively participate in other people’s lives.
You might ask what my point is. I guess part of my point is that people should be more thankful for those things that they do have. And the absolute most important thing people should be thankful for is the ability to interact with those they love. Friends, family, coworkers, even strangers on the street. We all have so much more in common and we were meant for so much more than what we do with our lives. Take away technology and take away all our physical luxuries and all we’re left with is each other.
You matter to me. Even if I’ve never met you, I’m happy you’re here. Be thankful for all the things you have in your life, even when things seem down. The world isn’t out to get you – it was here first. The best we can do is to keep working every day to make things better for those that come after us.