Sunday, March 6, 2016

Beans and Rice…and Privilege

Arenal Lodge, Costa Rica January 2007

Have you ever really thought about what “privilege” means?  If you had asked me as a kid growing up, I’d have told you that it was anyone but me.  And I guess my perception of reality then made that statement true.  I’d seen privilege through the lens of other peoples’ lives.   I don’t remember ever being envious…just in possession of a strong desire to fit in and blend with the crowd.  Not because I wanted more…but because I didn’t like the feeling of not having enough.

There is the kind of privilege you are born into…and the kind you earn.  And I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive.  I believe that the person you are determines your work ethic…and that whether you were born into privilege or are a self-made success, how you handle that responsibility is entirely within your control and character as an individual.

So I have to wonder why, when I think about privilege, more simple and ordinary things come to mind?  It’s a mixture of some great opportunities and the underlying moments … simple moments that have left a lasting impression on me.

My own life is a funny hodgepodge of humility, gratefulness, and surprising privilege intermingled throughout my life, where I have experienced great struggles at least as much as I’ve enjoyed success, recognizing that those times of struggle often led to a deeper appreciation of the successes realized later.

I’ve been blessed to have been able to travel to other countries, and grow my perspective in a way that let me embrace new cultures, traditions, and people…unique like me, but in different ways.

My standout moments, though, even in considering all of the people I’ve met and places I’ve been, are more focused on the privilege we can all enjoy if we can look past the lens of societal expectations and focus on what we consider to be real and true.

My short list of great privileges:

My dad always had difficulty with his feet.  He struggled and had numerous surgeries.  Towards the end of his life, when he was diagnosed with cancer, I remember a day when I went for a visit and performed an almost ritualistic gesture…gently washing his feet and bathing them in a pan of water.  I can remember delicately patting them dry with a towel.  And I remember his emotional response, recalling a memory of me as a little girl, when I wore corrective shoes positioned within a metal bar as I slept at night in my crib.  He used to sneak in after I was all tucked in and take them off…as he recalled the memory, it was bittersweet and we shared a few tears and an immense amount of love and respect.  And I silently acknowledged the transition that had occurred in turning from parent  / child to a sort of role reversal.  I remember this over 20 years later…with love intermingled with sadness…knowing that this brief moment in time was one of the greatest privileges I have experienced in my life…gently washing my dad’s feet.  It was more than a simple act of kindness…it was an act of unconditional love.

Giving birth to my three sons…and being able to watch them become amazing unique individuals…the kind I’d be proud to know even if I wasn’t their mom.

And when I think about my travels…I’ve been to places that terrified me from the moment the ticket was booked.  But from the second I stepped off the plane, I was part of a captive audience, open and embracing new worlds and cultures.  Sure, I almost always get homesick.  But I deliberately pause to think about every moment while I am there experiencing new privilege…taking pictures, thinking about the people I have met, and looking forward to going home.

Costa Rica is one of the first places that comes to mind…I traveled a few days ahead of a business trip to experience the rain forest and a natural hot spring near a volcano.  But if you ask me what was most memorable about the trip, it would be the breakfast I enjoyed sitting at a rickety metal table surrounded by the most beautiful garden I had ever seen, with an exotic flower in a small bud vase…and the best beans and rice I’d ever tasted.  Breakfast was my favorite meal of the day.  We tried tapas foods (Spanish cuisine, served as a variety of appetizers to make a meal) and exotic restaurants…but for me, the quaint little stone cottage we rented before the business side started…and the beans and rice with eggs on the side, represented a kind of universal comfort food.  The kind that translates to feeling at home in any language.  Because it’s about the gesture extended to you as a welcome guest and new friend.

And of all the memories of trips and travels, that simple meal of beans and rice I enjoyed in Costa Rica still resonates as the fondest of memories, having found a new appreciation for a simple basic staple of food.

A few months ago, I dropped in to visit a friend.  It was last minute and I interrupted dinner.  But there was enough to share…and I found myself once again enjoying a simple meal of beans and rice.  No one else could understand why this held special meaning for me.  It’s about being gracious.  It’s about sharing what you have…quiet companionship and the level of comfort you only experience with the best of friends…the ones who have celebrated you at your best…and still stuck around when you were at your very worse.  It’s the act of generosity in giving what you have and can…and not worrying about pretense or putting on a show for guests.

I’ve had the honor of visiting beautiful and luxurious places…but if you ask me about privilege, I won’t hesitate to share the real privilege I’ve experienced in my life…sharing a make-do dinner with a friend, knowing we have all been born into the privilege of being able to get to know and care for one another.

And if you ask me the greatest privilege of all, don’t laugh too hard when I tell you that beans and rice will always be at the top of my list.


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