Sometimes I question my obsession. Why, why do I read nine books at a time? And constantly? Is there true value in the pages? In the ink? In the time spent?
I am not certain of the answer. But tonight I propose there is.
I am a homeschooling mother of four. I don’t get out a lot. But I am a human desperate for perspective. Don’t change my circumstances, change my perspective.
Stories change our perspective. They put us in one another’s shoes. They lead us through lifetimes we will never live ourselves. They open our eyes and eradicate our fears and remind us we are not the only ones. They teach us things we might not otherwise learn.
I also question my interest in stories of war, and survival, and tragedy. Wouldn’t I be better off without these words in my head? Wouldn’t I be better off spared?
Maybe. But maybe not.
This week I am reading The War of Our Childhood: Memories of World War 2 by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel. Sometimes I get so sucked into a story that I literally carry the book everywhere I go. To the kitchen while I cook dinner. To the store to read while I wait in line. In the car in case I end up at a really long red light (I’m sorry. I know. I know. I don’t do this often.).
Tonight I read in line. A long line. Surrounded by fellow middle-class Americans, pop music playing, teenagers laughing, children yelling playfully, a few couples chatting. All of us ready to spend our money on a $5 cup of ice-cream.
$5. On ice-cream. Not potatoes. Not lifesaving medication. Not a coat we will need to survive the winter while we work the farm every day and walk every where we go. Ice-cream. For some of the families in line this meant $20 or more.
The juxtaposition of the book in my hand with the scene playing out around me was startling. To say the least.
And it offered me a moment of clarity I have not yet, in my 32 years, been given.
And that is that wealth is confusing.
We are a country of abundant wealth and have been for many decades. And for most of us middle-class Americans with middle-class neighbors and classmates and parents and coworkers, we have known nothing different.
The value of this is obvious- we are well-fed, well-educated, well-clothed, well-protected.
But the tragedy of this, the tragedy of wealth, is something that in my experience, very, very few of us see or appreciate or understand.
Being able to afford to take our family to Disney World is not a measure of wealth. Being able to afford a brand new car is not either. Having the money for Starbucks and name-brand clothing, American Girl Dolls and birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese? Dinner and a movie, 2000 square feet, IPhones, big screen TVs.
I understand the confusion. I have been confused too.
We only believe this lie because it is what we’ve been told our whole life. It is what we know, all we’ve seen.
We are a generation so removed from poverty that we have lost sight of reality, of what really matters, of the value of nearly all things.
My hope for us is not that war would be brought upon us, nor starvation nor life-threatening poverty. Never. Nor is it that any one of us would have an income that drastically increases or decreases. My hope is not that we read of war and be ashamed of our wealth, or feel guilty about it.
My hope is that we would be grateful. And at peace in our land of peace.
That we would buy our groceries with gratitude. And tuck our babies into warm beds with gratitude. That we would live within our means and be abundantly grateful that we even have means! That we would go to sleep at night breathing easy, without an ounce of energy devoted to the stress of our pursuit of the American Dream.
My friends, we are already living it. May we be granted the perspective to know so.