I have spent the last year learning about the world. Through the eyes of my daughter, I have seen amazing and sometimes heart wrenching stories of poverty, slavery, and abandonment. I have gone half way around the world to see them for myself. Looking into hopeless eyes causes you to see things differently. They are like mirrors which show you your own reflection. What I saw there was disheartening to me. My ungratefulness for my blessings, my assumptions, the opportunities I have squandered away, all of it became crystal clear in the midst of the futility that blankets the red light district in Thailand. The traps, cycles, and living conditions are beyond anything I have ever seen. To the people who live along this street it is how life is. There is no striving to make a different way. There is only life as they have known it, life as it is.
The ‘Land of Opportunity’ took on a whole new meaning for me this year. I guess I never thought about what the lack of opportunity would look like. It is built into our culture that you can be whatever you want to be if you work hard enough. You are only limited here if you lack vision. In other countries, you are born into your life. There is no question as to what you will do. To break away and do something different is rare. I have seen some beautiful stories of resilience among the poverty, but they are the exception not the rule. It is hard to describe how much appreciation this gave me for my own country. Don’t get me wrong, I know we have our problems…our divisions, and poverty, and social issues. I get that, but the choices we have are unending. We argue with one another because we are allowed to think for ourselves. We are a part of the process of deciding how we live our own lives. We have a say. Poor people here have TVs, bathrooms, and refrigerators for the most part. Our children are not usually sold into slavery. We do not have their kidneys harvested for money. We do not abandon them to the streets. Little girls are not forced to have sex night and day while being held captive. There is a chance that if you are born into poverty here you can get out of it. Hope lives here.
I see why America seems like a beacon of light for so many who long to move here. They love our country without even knowing it. In America, we are free. In America, you can be anything. America is powerful. America is the Land of Opportunity to anyone who dares to dream of such a thing. People flock to see the “Americans” when you walk down the street in other countries. You have superstar status just because of where you are from. They ask questions about our clothes, our homes…our lives. They dream of having what we have…not necessarily in a material sense, they know well how to live without…they long for the freedoms we have. To speak freely. To pursue happiness. To gather. To worship. To be whatever they choose.
All of this made me wonder what have I done with the opportunity I was born with. It also made me so very grateful for those men and women who have fought to keep us free. Have their sacrifices been wasted on me? Has the blood they spilled been in vain? It is Memorial Day…a day to honor those who died in battle, or as a result of their service. This year I get it. I have always attempted to pay my respects, but this year I see the true cost…and the benefits I have reaped my entire life from the price that was paid. My eyes are open in a new way. I cannot tell you how blessed we are. I cannot tell you how different life could be if I had been born in a different place on the globe. I cannot tell you how petty many of my complaints are, and how childish I am for not fully grasping how amazing our country is. Today I thank God for my country…and for those who knew this long before I did…and gave their lives in hopes that one day I would SEE it.
God, bless those men and women…bless their families. Strengthen them. Show them the fruits of their sacrifices. Thank you for this land of opportunity. Thank you for hope, and choices, and freedom. Thank you for the men and women who died to give them to me…even when I didn’t get it. Amen.