Friday, October 4, 2013

First thoughts on a Third World: Why me?

By Jimmy Patterson

When I was eight, I crossed a road and ventured into a residential area in Acapulco, where my parents and I were visiting. I saw a little girl, maybe three or four, sitting on a street corner. She had become ill on the sidewalk and was sitting in it. I walked away, because that’s just what eight year olds did back then, and I did nothing but think of how disturbing it was. Gross or some such word was more likely my thought.

I was fortunate to have been raised in a comfortable family. My father worked for American Airlines and we were blessed to be able to travel often. I was a typical kid from the suburbs. The real world was something I would never really experience. And still haven’t. My trip to Acapulco stood as the only time I have ever been out of the country. Until this week.

With 46 years between that sight on the streets of southern Mexico and this week, I guess only one question comes to mind: Why? As in, “Why me?” I prefer ‘Why?’ because, as best as it can, it deflects attention from me, because I am not the story here. Not now.

I made a nice living writing about my family and about me and about all things ‘I’ for plenty of years at the Midland Reporter-Telegram. So … why?  Still that’s my thought. I’ve done nothing to earn this trip; this “opportunity of a lifetime;” this chance to learn what life is like in a Third Word Country.

Last week my biggest challenge was changing the windshield wipers on my wife’s car. Biggest complaint? My steak at a local restaurant didn’t sit well with my stomach (not to mention how lousy the service was). My biggest disappointment? That the Rangers lost to Tampa and missed the Major League Baseball playoffs.

I sit now in a barbeque restaurant in DFW Airport looking out at a spa and a sign next to it that tells passersby how to earn more miles if they shop and dine here. An electronic walkway moves people from place to place with ease and comfort, and outside are the noses of scores of jumbo jets that will take thousands of lucky people to hundreds of exotic locations within the next few hours. Or to Jordan, which is not. An exotic place.

Life moves about predictably enough in America, in relative peace and calm, despite our current turmoil in Washington and our seemingly growing penchant for public displays of mass violence. For a good many of us, though, our expectations are met daily and we are rarely disappointed about anything that can be remotely considered important in a Big Picture way. Sure, we have our ups and downs, our crises and even our devastating losses. But mostly, ‘We got it good,’ as I’m sure someone famous somewhere once said.

I read a book this summer called, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.” I can’t really recommend it to everyone. Its language is fairly frank, but it was dead on in its description about our skewed priorities in America. If you are not bothered by a rapid-fire succession of F words in your reading material, you should probably pick it up. It served to solidify what I already knew about how we place far too much importance on things that simply aren’t.

After “Why?,” I guess my next biggest thought is, “This trip I’m on is a mission? What? How can that be? I’m not a missionary.” Missionaries are really, really good people who are a lot more spirit-filled than I and who spread the Good News, right? I don’t feel like I’m even remotely qualified to do that. So, again it comes back to ‘Why me?’ I certainly don’t feel worthy. Not even close.

Yet here it is, a little more than 24 hours from touching down, God willing, in a Third World Country where I will likely see things that made that little girl in Acapulco look like she hadn’t a care in the world.

I’m told a trip like this can be life altering. And while I could most certainly benefit from something of an attitude adjustment, my bigger hope would be that this journey be life altering for those who remain behind when I am lucky enough to return to the comfort of Midland, Texas. They need a better life more than I do. That would be my prayer.

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