In a real, substantial, and meaningful way, though, I know the difference between luxury and poverty. This is the convergence of growing up and living in the Third World, and the education that I received from a Catholic school, a public high school, and the state university.
Looking back, I think that when you see luxury and poverty side by side -- the divide so distinct and it is almost as if one cannot be without the other -- you start thinking about your own situation.
Materially, I have always thought of myself as lucky, although I know now that it is not luck, but grace and virtue. Not my personal virtues but those who looked after my well-being, namely, my parents and later when I got married, my husband.
My whole life, I am actually in awe of why I am where I am and why I have what I have.
Why did it have to be me who could go to school and not the girl who sold leis on the streets or the boy who sold cigarettes to motorists? Why did I sleep soundly in my own bed while a woman and her baby shared cardboard packaging for a bed on the sidewalk? Why is there ample food on our table on a daily basis while the families of farmers go hungry?
I asked the same questions as a young professional, as a mother bearing and raising her children, and as a regular man-on-the street watching goings-on. Some circumstances differed but the questions remained unchanged. Why did their homes and lives have to be swept away by the typhoons? They will be rebuilding their lives with nothing. It could have been my home and my life, but they remain unscathed by the monsoon. Why do many husbands and fathers have to leave their families and work in strange foreign lands for measly amounts? My husband comes home every single day and is a hands-on father.
But knowledge -- or even awe, as in my case -- of a situation does not always translate to appreciation. And appreciation does not always result in thankfulness. It is so convenient to be a fencesitter, to know and be there, but remain distant and unattached.
In the end, though, even fencesitters have to get down from their perch. If they stay there for too long, they risk never really taking in what was going on in either side, or being jaded, and in the end, self-destruct because of apathy, ignorance, or both.
When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.
So everyday, I have to make the decision not just to be in awe of what I have, but to fully appreciate it, to be thankful to God over and over and over, jump down from my fence and be available to those who may have some use for what I can give. I am not a philanthropist or a missionary or a famous advocate of some lofty cause. I am a mom who can barely keep her house in order; my kids are not subdued beings who peacefully carry on the day's affairs. But I believe that if one takes the first step, it is easier to be led.
Then, too, poverty is not always material. The poor are not always the hungry, the sick, or the homeless.
There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives -- the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family. Find them. Love them.
And with a bit of Franciscan spirit, a life undeserved and a thankful heart just might gel into something divine.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted; to understand than to to understood; to love , than to be loved.