I enjoy giving to charity; in fact, I'd like to do more because there are so many amazing organizations out there doing all sorts of wonderful things. But Take the Poor With You isn't really about throwing money at the problem (although that helps, no mistake.) The main thing I'm interested in doing is changing my lifestyle and the way I think, the way I blithely go through my day surrounded by wealth and comfort and hardly even stop to recognize my blessings, let alone truly appreciate them.
So I've been trying out ways of living that take the poor with me. Today I shortened my shower. This is a big thing for me, because I'm always cold. Something about my circulation is off, I don't know, but my feet and hands are always freezing and I'm generally the first one in a room to put on a sweater or make a cup of tea. So the joy of a nice hot shower in the morning is an indulgence I've always looked forward to. Nothing else really warms me the way a shower does, nothing else dissolves my back pain and limbers the stiffness of sleeping all night curled around a nursing baby. I could happily spend 20 minutes just enjoying my shower (providing the kids are happy, of course.)
But water's one of our most precious resources. Social scientists are predicting that within 50 years we'll be viewing water like we view oil today, complete with violent conflicts over access and supply. In Darfur, women leave the safety of their camps every day for water, knowing they will be raped. Yet they go anyway, because they must.
In light of that, indulging myself in a long, hot hower just seems too selfish and irresponsible. True solidarity would probably be to stop showering altogether, sponge bathe myself in a tub of rainwater, or shower in cold water. But I'm not willing to go that far at this point. However, I can use less water. I can shorten my shower. I can pray for Darfur and for all refugees and victims of rape.
I've also been limiting myself to vegetarian entrees when I go out to eat, and when I do our grocery shopping, I buy only sustainable foods. At home we only cook meat twice a week (which really saves on our grocery bills, let me tell ya.) Ordering the vegetarian option at a restaurant helps me honor the poor in several ways:
1. It is a sacrifice for me to turn away from the plank-grilled salmon or turkey bacon club sandwich I really want. I can offer up this sacrifice for people who are hungry.
2. While the main problems our food supply creates are with factory farming as a method, and not with the raising and slaughter of animals per se, the vegetarian option has less cruelty, oppression and waste associated with it.
3. It's almost always cheaper, and considerably so. The money I save can be donated to organizations that help migrant workers, provide support to those injured at work, or promote small, local farms.
The last thing I'm working on is a strictly personal effort. Right now, my husband is at our home in Colorado studying for the bar while I am in northern Michigan with his family, giving him space and quiet. I miss him. A lot. I'm also tired of being the sole person responsible for the kids' routine: I feed them, I entertain them, I dress them, I read the stories, give the baths, put them to bed, etc. My husband has spent the last two months either at work, at class, or studying, and though I get to talk to him every day, we haven't had the chance for any real conversations and he just doesn't have any time to help with the kids. It's not OH GOOD GRACIOUS THIS HUGE BURDEN or anything, but it's exhausting and I really really really want a break. I also really really really want to see my husband again and have the opportunity to talk with him and reconnect.
Whenever we discuss the situation, he always mentions how much worse things would be if he were in Iraq right now, instead of safe and comfortable at home. It really humbles me to think about the servicemen and women around the world who have left their families and put their lives on the line for our country. The justification of their sacrifice is neither here nor there; the point is they're making one. A big one. So whenever I miss him, I say a prayer for the women who are missing their husbands and worrying about their safety. Whenever I just don't feel like cajoling more green beans into the stomach of my 4 year old, I pray for those moms left as single mothers while their husbands are away for years at a time. Whenever my 10-month old does something new and I wish my husband were here to see it, I pray for those fathers and mothers who miss years of their kids' lives (first steps, births, first teeth, first smiles, first days of school, graduations, etc.)
If awareness is my goal, this really achieves it.