I once heard an illustration about putting one’s problems into a bag and leaving it on a table. The caveat was that you had to pick up someone else’s bag.

One bag was filled with the problems of American life–rising gas prices, a broken dishwasher, spotty cell service, having to wear a mask. Another was filled with the problems of slum life—hunger, a stream of sewage running past the door, vaccine scarcity, three neighbors dead of Covid in the past week.

As the illustration goes, nobody took the offer.

My point isn’t to denigrate any of us who don’t live in slums. It’s to redirect the conversation.

If you took every man, woman and child in America and tripled that number, that would be the number of people who live in slums around the world. Many Americans don’t like to think about it, but that’s sticking the fingers in the ears and singing “la la la la la” to drown out the truth.

We don’t worry about fly infestations and overwhelming odors that make us puke. We don’t worry about being raped when we step outside to go to the bathroom. (We don’t worry about having to go to the bathroom outside, period.) We don’t worry about being turned away from an emergency room because of our caste. We don’t have to worry about a lot of things.

There’s an Indian proverb that goes like this. “I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man who had no feet.”

We have the power to shift the conversation and do what we can about global poverty. We can put a reality check on our own problems. When we’re tempted to complain, we can consider people who have no food…or decent infrastructure…or dignity…or for God’s sake, feet.

Once, when I was co-leading a trip to India, I felt utterly useless at our medical camp. (I’m not a medical person.) However, the Indian leaders saw my distress and said, “Debbie, we can use you a lot more in America than here in India, trying to take blood pressures. Tell your people about our need. Don’t forget.”

I haven’t forgotten. I think about it every day and talk about it often. My little bag of problems has a way of bringing it to mind.

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