For some reason this year all of my friends have loaned or given me books about the lives of people (mainly women) who through no fault of their own have been difficult.
A trilogy by Barbara and Stephanie Keating: Blood Sisters, A Durable Fire, In Borrowed Light – a story of three girls who became “blood” sisters in the Kenya Highlands in the 1950’s and their struggles over the years after Kenyan independence.
The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak – written from an unusual point of view, the horror that was Nazi Germany comes through the mundane of a young teen’s eyes.
My Forbidden Face by “Latifa” a true story written by a 16-year-old girl who faithfully recorded events over a five-year period after – as she puts it – the “white flag was raised over Kabul” when Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban. She and her family were smuggled out to Europe, but as there are still family members left behind she used a pseudonym for protection.
Gogo Mama by Sally Sara. A book compiled of interviews of twelve very different African women and dedicated to a newswoman killed in Africa.
And I have several more…
Reading of these lives touched by violence: knowing that the only difference in between them and myself is that of luck in where I was born, grew up and now live, leads me to reflect on the randomness of our existence. Although to first my parent’s credit then my own, we worked hard, saved well and got lucky (yep it is often not sufficient to simply work hard and save – one does need that outside element that allows one to invest well or be in a society where the economy does well thus allowing for the growth of that which was saved.)
Back when my older son accused us of being abusers of the poor Africans I remember telling him that although it wasn’t to our merit that we had what we did, it was – for me – an obligation that because of the difference, I always be aware of the privileges that I enjoyed. That it is up to us to not only not do evil, but to actively search for ways of helping humanity where we are.
The not doing harm isn't too difficult, the trying to do good not so easy: it is all too simple to continue one’s day-to-day life feeling “owed” by all and sundry for what one has. We complain of the smallest things – a speeding ticket, deserved or not – the rain going on for days – high taxes. We forget the rare privileges we enjoy: a roof over our heads, enough to eat, no one looking to kill us.
So I’m living the “good life” – hopefully cognizant that my life is good! Sometimes all it takes is someone else’s story to bring that forcibly home.
Living well for me means enjoying every minute of every day; every person as I meet them; every bite I take or drop I drink; it means waking up looking forward to each day regardless the place or the weather; it means above all doing no harm and trying in one’s own way to do some good. Random Acts of Kindness is a concept I love even if I don’t always apply it – yep, I too am only human.
“It isn't what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it. - Dale Carnegie”