Of Lent and Lentils

This Lent I'm eating twice a day and keeping to a diet of rice and beans - sort of a reverse South Beach diet. I am eating only carbs. I've actually lost 15 pounds in as many days! But my purpose is not losing weight. I want to stay awake to the realities of most of the world. Half of our planet manages to exist on $2 or less per day. How can I encounter that fact in anything other than an intellectual way when I am living in a nice home, eating huge meals every day, in one of America's most beautiful cities? To the billion slum-dwellers, I live the fantasy life of a rock-star ... at least by comparison. What happens when you live in a cocoon is that you quickly lose touch with anybody but those in your class.

A diet of beans and rice is really doing little to save anyone. But it is saving me. It is rescuing me from the cocoon in some small but significant way.

I love to dream big. I am regularly scheming on large scale about global problems. A few of these schemes have even been put into action. But big dreams can also be an excuse for inaction. Last Saturday I was walking in our neighborhood and noticed some trash. It was a real battle of the will to stoop down and pick it up. It wasn't just that this was inconvenient, it was that it seemed like such a small act. There was actually quite a bit of trash around (15 inches of snow is melting and revealing a bunch of garbage), how would picking up this one piece matter? I did not have the time or energy to mobilize a neighborhood clean up campaign. I walked past and wrestled with my conscience. Ultimately, I went back and picked up a couple pieces of Styrofoam (if I'm going to pick up trash I might as well pick up something that takes a million years to decompose). It was in some ways more challenging than deciding to go to Cairo with my family to live for a summer in a garbage community. It's the small acts that require gumption. But bending down to pick up a piece of trash, smiling at a homeless person, and restricting myself to eating two meals a day is keeping me from drowning completely in a sea of affluent self-absorption.

What do some of you do to keep in touch with the rest of the world?

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