Thursday, April 28, 2011

Facing a brave new world: Meagan Harrison

All that is Gold does not (necessarily) Glitter
by Meagan Harrison

Kelsey is probably expecting me to write something about how everyone should get the chance to go abroad, volunteer, and see the world as much as they can before they die, get old, or run out of money. And given the title of my own blog  “I’m giving you warning, baby: We’ve got a whole big fat world to see,” one would certainly be validated in expecting me to write something that makes you want to quit your job/drop out of school, sell all your possessions, and get on a plane to live in a third world country for a few years, or hey, maybe travel for the rest of your life. (Of course, I would whole-heartedly support this adventurous decision!) But instead, this entry gives a bit of insight into the way the other half of my brain is in no way a plea for complacency, but a challenge to find meaning and purpose wherever you are.

I’ll start with a quote from one of my favorite authors.

"And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can't go back to being normal; you can't go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time." -Donald Miller

I have done a lot of things and lived a lot of good stories that have made me “abnormal.” I have done a lot of traveling, a lot of volunteering, a lot of exploring. I have met and “helped” people in countries from North and Central America, to Europe, to Asia and the South Pacific. However, I often think about the connections I've made with individuals and entire communities, and the things that I have done while I was in each place and question: Was it enough?

Because after all, I was not able to give proper homes to the street children I met in Manila. But even if I did, would they ever earn enough money to keep their own kids off the streets? To be able to shop in the swanky Greenbelt Mall in upscale Makati City? I did not make the girls from rural Guatemala fluent in English when I spent time teaching in a school (not that this was the goal). But even if I did, would they be able to go on to a university education, get a high paying job, travel, or do any of the things we as Americans count as essential experiences to living a meaningful life?

The answer to all of this is probably a very sobering “no”. The people I have met will most likely never be able to live the life I have been so incredibly blessed with thus far. And after all the traveling I have done and all the experiences I have had meeting people just like these kids, I am always disappointed in myself for asking these ethnocentric questions, wondering if they will ever live a story like mine, or feeling bad for them because they truth is, they might not. Because apart from the fact that different cultures value different things, the truth is, it really doesn't matter if these people go on to do what I have done/will do. Because these are not the things that necessarily amount to living “a good story”, or make up a meaningful life.

I have learned that people can have purpose right where they are, wherever they are. Living a happy life in the Philippines without American luxuries is okay. Residing in a small town on Lake Atitlan, nestled between mountains and volcanos and never leaving there is okay. (Of course, this goes without saying, I do not think people should be living in poverty, or in deprivation of any human rights.)  But it is okay for the people that I have met to be where they are and it is okay for us to be wherever we are.  I do not only have a purpose when I am in a foreign country volunteering- I have a purpose living in Kinnelon, NJ or in Elon, NC or wherever I end up.

I have been undeniably blessed and I am grateful to have experienced such opportunities over the past 21 years of my life. I do believe that in some way, the work I have done and will do, makes a difference in the lives of people I meet, as they have made a difference in my life.  But we don’t need to travel to the ends of the earth to live with purpose, to impact people, to feel. Here’s to living a good story and getting a “taste for a kind of meaning in life” wherever we are at any given moment. We just have to remember to find and pursue that purpose so that our lives will never be “meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time."

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