Sometimes, especially on this trip, I stop to think about all the things I take for granted. And as much as it makes me feel a bad to realize how often I assume I will have certain amenities, it also makes me incredibly and strangely thankful that I have the ability to forget how fortunate I am. On a typical day, I show up for my classes, I eat at least two full meals, and take a nice warm shower. When I have an especially hard day at school, or miss a meal, or the water won’t heat up all the way, I feel as if something has gone wrong—as if my day has fallen below my standards, and that the next day will have to be better, because otherwise it will just have been a bad week.
On this trip, I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to have an especially good day be a day that I got to wake up early to go to school, or eat a meal that left me satisfied, or take a bath. And I try to imagine what it would be like to have a perfect day be a day that I do all three of these things. It’s surprisingly difficult to do so. And it makes me feel really strange that I actually have the opportunity to have a favorite class or brand of ketchup or type of shampoo.
Today, I ate at one of the best dinners of my life. While I’m still working on fully enjoying Indian food, the meal itself was incredibly spiritual. We ate in utter silence, with candles and statues of Buddha and no tables or chairs. At any other time with any other group of people, I probably would have felt more than a little uncomfortable, both mentally, because I am unaccustomed to silence, and physically, because sitting cross-legged for a long period of time make my legs fall asleep.
But I didn’t feel uncomfortable. In fact, I have rarely felt more at peace in my entire life. It took a few minutes to get used to the idea of eating on the floor without talking to anyone at all, but I then considered these three facts:
- I was on a school-sponsored trip to India.
- There was far more food on my plate than I could comfortably eat.
- After the meal I was going to take a nice cold bucket shower.
I realized that in general, my life is pretty comfortable. If the thing that makes me the most uneasy is the opportunity to eat with a little bit of quiet, then I should really count my blessings. So I’ve been trying.
There’s still one thing that needs addressing, though, and it might actually be the most important distinction to make when discussing the less financially fortunate. Happiness is not measured by wealth, and it shouldn’t be, and it can’t be. Sometimes we try to anyway, though, and that’s where I want to be very, very clear: I do not think that my access to schooling, healthy food, and proper sanitation make me any happier than people who live in some of the very poor communities that we have visited over the past few days. I have seen the unrelenting, insistent hospitality of village women offering me tea and the ear-to-ear grins of children—children who by any American’s standards would be considered uneducated and dirty. Their joy comes from other sources, like hand games and makeshift swings and visiting Americans. And, unlike me, they never take anything for granted, making the school day even more fun and a proper meal even more satisfying and a cold shower all the more refreshing. I can learn from them. And after visiting all the organizations in Ahmedabad, I like to think I am.