"...the question now remains "What am I going to do next?" I want to do something that will matter but, I also want to satisfy my curiosity with the world and do something I'll love. I would like to travel and go [to] new places. I would like to contribute to the fight for human rights for the disinherited, and I would like to help provide people with opportunities to ... become literate. With all of that said, I think I'll make the biggest difference if I have a job that I love to do."In the letter I say something about having the opportunity to become "familiar with the very real needs of people in the clenches of real poverty" and consider that the encounters I'd had with poverty would help me avoid being "stuffy and judgmental" but more of a "friend and advocate". Those words seem so naive to me now. So much has happened in the almost 10 years since I wrote that letter, that even though some of my underlying passions remain, the convictions and reality of my life are quite different.
One of the things that has been deeply challenging to my thinking and living in the past 5 years, in particular, is the experience that life is deeply and profoundly not fair. I wrote those words with powerful idealism and optimism. I believed that I would be a part of some greater positive change in the world, and then a few years later, found myself not only familiar with the needs of people in poverty, but simply living the experience of life where things are not handed to you on a silver platter.
"Poverty" is a very relative thing. I have had the opportunity to live surrounded by wealth that most people will never get to enjoy in life. Wealth that is intellectual, financial, and social. I have been surrounded by interesting people thinking interesting thoughts, I have had more than I need, and have lived in beautiful and unusual community that has become the making and unmaking of some of my deepest spiritual beliefs.
Just a few years later, I found myself in an environment that was significantly limited intellectually, financially, and socially. It was a shock. I lost a part of my identity at that time, I was no longer the advocate for the poor, I felt as if I had become one of them. The transformation was deep and profound. I am not poor, I am well aware of the distinct privileges that I have received in life. Nevertheless, the "sufferings" of the developed world seem overwhelmingly petty and superficial. I find myself to be petty and superficial at times.
I desired at the time of writing my letter to not be "stuffy and judgmental". I have come to the conclusion that anyone can be "stuffy and judgmental" no matter what their condition or circumstances, often without realizing it. I have also realized that life is best lived as it is, as a journey not a race. Anyone who is "in it to win it" is welcome to run past, I would much rather spend my time with people who are along for the ride, excited to experience both the beauty and poverty that life might allow you to experience than people who are anxious to "win" or "get ahead" or "make it".