Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lack Is Not All Bad

Like most people, many are the times I have prayed for prosperity. I admit to having received my share of it in many more ways than the material.

This morning I was having a conversation with some friends when I had the distinct feeling that someone had walked over my grave. For a moment, I felt almost spaced out as realization dawned on me. How many times had I heard that money couldn’t buy happiness or love? I had sang and danced to those words, for heaven’s sake! I thought I knew for a fact that material prosperity is not a precursor to happiness. This morning the message sank to the core of my being. It was a major Aha! moment.

We were talking about a club that some of our colleagues had formed. The members had not only become very conceited, but also quite possessive of their members and choosy about who joined the club. One of the colleagues I was talking to made this comment when I asked her why she was not a member of the club. ‘Even if I was tied up and dragged to the club, then whipped each morning while being asked to join, I would forever say NO.’

As the four of us spoke, it dawned on us that the members of this club had formed a clique like teenagers did in high school, hanging around together, vetting new members of staff who they chose as part of their club, and making sure to keep out those who did not meet their criteria. In doing this, they had made other staff wary of them and lost the club’s human face. Chipping in to help the community seemed to justify the distance they created between them and their colleagues, assuaging any guilt their actions may bring.

My workmates and I remembered a colleague whose job is one of the lowest ranked and undesirable in the company. When I first met her, she had been sick for over a year, had exhausted all her sick leave and was on nil pay. She had lost all hope of survival and constantly talked of death. I learnt later that her colleagues, in the same low rank job, had been paying her rent for the six months she had been on nil pay. They provided her with food, would go and cook for her and sit with her while she ate; they would bathe and visit her during her frequent stays in hospital, and one of them even took her children 600 kilometres to her sister’s house when she realized the sick lady would not be able to adequately take care of the children.

What surprised me most was that these ladies, who are mostly single parents with 2 or more children, who worked manual jobs that meant they were exhausted by the end of each day, and earned the lowest salaries (less than 5,000 shillings) in the company, gladly contributed 100 shillings every month to cater for their sick colleague’s needs. I was especially humbled to hear that over the months, they had put aside 6,000 shillings for the sick colleague for contingencies. When the colleague’s health improved and she was back to work, they gave her the 6,000 shillings to cater for her immediate needs.

On the other hand, when one of the club members was wedding, fellow management level colleagues made a request for contributions to enable them buy a gift collectively. The sound of silence was deafening and the lack of activity, eerie. When another middle management colleague almost lost a child due to a debilitating disease and a request for assistance was made, you could have heard a pin drop in the sudden quiet. None of those two requests ever bore fruit.

My Aha! moment came when it was my turn to talk and I recognized that we are in touch most with our human nature when we lack. When we lack love, money, children, food, etc, we are more in touch with ourselves, and God. We tend to reach out to each other for support, and to God a lot more when faced with tough situation. We find solace when we call friends just to have a coffee or to talk, or when we spend some alone time contemplating the circumstances that led us to that moment.

Though the economically weak colleagues rarely have any money, they stood for their own; easing her worry as she struggled to get her health back. These men and women can only afford to buy lunch in the first few days after pay day; the rest of the days, they lie on the grass during their lunch break talking, sharing or taking a much needed nap. These wonderful people may lack the comforts that money provides, but God makes it up to them in the comfort of pure love and friendship with each other. Prosperity misused has brought with it individualism, selfishness and a misplaced sense of power. I constantly ask myself, which side would you rather be on?

I learnt as I spoke, that it is easier for those who have very little, to share, than it is for those whose baskets are overflowing. I have seen women walking for many kilometres, carrying baskets of flour, sugar, bananas, fruit, oil, etc on their heads or backs, going to visit a friend who lost a husband or a child, or even one who had just fallen on hard times. I have seen male and female workers, with barely enough to feed their families, pool money to hire a van in an effort to join and comfort a bereaved friend or colleague. I have seen these same men and women leave work, sit with a friend’s sick child in hospital all night long, then shower, change and go straight on back to work. I have often envied their throaty laughter filled with love, kindness, and hope, a different kind of laugh. I’ve heard their cries, seen tears drawn from the pit of their stomachs for a friend’s loss. I’ve seen them hold on to their friendships for years and years, coming together in equal measure in times of joy and times of strife. In that moment, I learnt that it is easier for someone with only 10 shillings to give 2 shillings, than it was for someone with 10,000 to give 2,000.

So now when I pray, I ask God to make me prosperous, but I dare not forget to ask Him to help me know how to use this gift, lest I lose myself in material things. I pray that I remember that not all material, spiritual, and emotional prosperity bestowed upon me is mine. I pray to remember that I am a vessel, a messenger sent with a gift to disburse to others - children, relatives, friends, colleagues, strangers and the poor.

© 11 Sep 2007


kipusa said...

true, when we are in lqck thats when we are really in touch with our human nature

bravo to those women.

Prousette said...

It is indeed very important in our pursuit of prosperity to pause once in awhile and check if we have lost all that which money cannot buy like humanity.

Lovely post!

Mzalendo said...

you've hit what ails our country and world right on the head! selfishness is at the root of many of our problems. paradoxically, those most endowed also suffer the most from seldishness.

Shiru said...

O.K. I do agree and see what you are saying about wealth and its proper uses.

All that said though, aren't you fetishing poverty? Its one thing to look at those poor co-workers and admire that even though they are hungry at lunch they still have each other but do you really want to be them?

I'm sure they want to have lunch and their friendships too.....

I'm totally focusing on systemic causes of poverty here. The problem is those who 'have' (and if you're blogging you probably have enough to have lunch and then some) want to get in and close the doors on those who come after us. Makes me think of the whole immigration debate in the U.S.