There is this house that I run by sometimes. It is a couple of miles from my apartment. Small, blue. It has two windows and a door I can see from the street, with a dark gray shingled roof and a picket fence next to it. There are flowers in the summer, pink and purple frothy blossoms in pots. It is at the end of a driveway, or the beginning, depending how you look at it.
I’ve never actually seen anyone in the house. There is only one room, after all, and I assume there are only people in the mornings, in the space of fifteen minutes after grabbing the packed Coleman lunch box and before boarding the school bus. The time in which you might wait with an umbrella or a down parka, weather depending. The fifteen minutes during which kids, I don’t know how many, sit in a small shelter painted baby-bird-eggshell turquoise. The same shade of blue the actual house is painted, sitting at the top of the driveway, maybe a quarter mile away from the road.
It makes me a little sick to my stomach every time I pass it. It’s not such a ridiculous thing, I suppose, to build a bus shelter for your kids when you have the money to build a bus shelter. It is not so crazy to want the paint to match the four bedroom colonial you live in, two-and-a-half baths. Maybe it is normal, in suburban, upper-middle-class Central Massachusetts, to view this as…normal.
But I can’t stop seeing it as a home in Ecuador with dirt floors and no electricity. I can’t stop hearing the voices of refugees on This American Life’s recent episodes — the voices in languages I do not grasp, but I understand the translations, and feel the desperation. I can’t stop recalling the images of war’s tragedies and travesties, children coated in rubble from bombs in their homes. Their homes. Homes that are now dust and crumbs, scattered on cracked roads that lead to no where but uncertainty.
Meanwhile, here in America, in Central Massachusetts, there is a house with a smaller house at the end of the driveway, a house that is used for one thing.
A bus shelter for those uncomfortable 15 or 20 minutes of waiting. And I am reminded of the 15 or 20 thousand waiting for a passport to a new life, caught between warring countries with clothes on their backs and perhaps nothing else.
What bothers me here is not really the bus shelter itself– it isn’t my money that built it. It wasn’t my choice to build it. But the bus shelter represents a luxury I routinely feel guilty to have. I will repeat that I run by this home — two miles or so from where I live.
I can afford to live here. I have a bedroom, bathroom, closets, kitchen, dining area, living room. A small deck host to a couple of wilting tomato plants and a dried-up cactus. Furniture. Food in my refrigerator. Clothes in a bureau. Books on the bookshelves. A painting on the wall next to my bed because I like it. This, this is an apartment for one person who makes less money than some but thousands more than most.
I am grateful for my privilege, and the opportunity to give to others. I am aware of charitable organizations that need donations and options to support those in poverty.
But what I cannot wrap my head around is why me? Every time I pass this bus shelter, I feel it, a wave of guilt spreading through my body, and then I run a little bit faster. How does one reconcile a life of luxury, a life that they were essentially gifted, with the pain of millions of people who were handed a different set of cards? How do I reconcile the fact that I am who I am, and I deserve it no more than Syrian refugees trapped in Greece right now?
Yet I am here with a full stomach and a career and a home. Meanwhile, families are living in tents on the borders of countries who won’t let them in because of where they came from. Likely, I will never know that suffering.
I’m not asking for suffering. I’m just wondering why some people are born to white parents in a rich neighborhood, and some are born in refugee camps. What kind of sick lottery is this? Is God upstairs, choosing souls to walk one path instead of another? Or is this selection random, the luck of the draw? Why did I get the winning numbers?
All futile questions, I know. But I can’t reconcile my whiteness, my money, or my life with the stories I hear of women my age and families in Syria. People who are just like me, and yet not like me at all.