Pencils and Paper

I'd like to raise three cheers to The Things I am Learning As I'm Getting Older. If only I weren't too tired to raise three cheers. Maybe 2.4 will do.

After a night in which my body decided that, "Hey! Sleep is for sissies! Who needs sleep? Not you!" and the rain and dreariness of the day made getting out bed seem like a resurrection of biblical proportions, I gathered my people and we made our way, along with my brother, to the local elementary school building. There, we spent time unloading and assembling bags of school supplies for kids who, without the generosity of nearby groups of churches, would show up for the first day of school without so much as a pencil.

My kids, despite the intrusion upon their Saturday Sleep-In Sanctuary, never complained. They did ask questions, however. Why, for example, were school supplies such a big deal? Were they a positive thing? Didn't getting up on a weekend to receive those seem like a terrible punishment to inflict upon a child?

These were good, albeit annoying to my sleep-deprived state, questions. I jest. Sort of. They were honest. Which I usually encourage. When I have slept. The thing is, my kids have never wondered where their pencils were coming from. They HAVE groaned over the past few days as UPS trucks/FedEx vehicles/USPS jeeps have bounced down our gravel drive to deliver textbook after textbook. They don't know that their mom can just hop online and order what they need, or borrow it, or be gifted it. They have never questioned if the needed supplies will arrive.

As an adult, I know the crazy amount of money it takes to live this elusive American Dream. I don't foresee ever making that amount of money, and I gave up chasing that dream years ago when we moved to Guatemala. When you drag open the iron gate you live behind to see a man, passed out, with a bottle of rubbing alcohol in his hand...When you and your children walk near people lying on the sidewalks every day...When sweet tiny ones you've cuddled and held on your lap die of hunger...When little girls in villages just down the road are shot as they walk home from school...You start to think differently about The Dream. You start to reject it. You start to wonder if those who offer a cup of water to the homeless...a literal cup of water...are more Jesus than anyone you have ever met. You know that his teachings become, as all things do in this country, messy and divisive, but that those who stop TALKING about it and start doing it are the ones you want to hang around with.

I find it ironic that I moved from Guatemala to one of the poorest counties in all of Virginia. I don't think that's something I can ignore. I drive past people, every day, who are living on land bordering other land from which they were swindled because of their race. I shook hands today with people who, not long ago,  weren't allowed to go to the local school simply because of the shade of their skin. I live near people who freeze in the winter and suffer in the summer. I can't look away from that. Not when Americans, including myself, spend more on trash bags than half the world spends on all goods combined. We are spending more on throwing our stuff away than they have to spend on anything they need. I hate it when those facts are in my face, but the truth is, they are. So I have to either do something or just pretend I can't change anything.

Today was nothing. Other people did all of the work. We were just the delivery van. But the fact that my kids asked questions about how much OUR books cost and wondered about it...maybe, just maybe, they thought a little more about how lucky we are. It's a start. It's not enough; yet we can take that start and not file it away under Nice Feelings We Have Sometimes, but take action on it. There are crazy, ridiculous amounts of need all around us, and around us all.

In the meantime, instead of getting frustrated when my 13 year-old breaks his mechanical pencil for the 82nd time in one day, I'll decide to be grateful that we have more pencils and that, thanks to the love and tender care of people all around us, children down the road will, too.

(Poverty statistic: John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas Naylor, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2002. Quoted by Jen Hatmaker in Interrupted, NavPress, 2014.)