After four years of Jesuit education and another four years of living in community, I finally “arrived” when I moved into a teeny apartment in a bustling neighborhood in Boston. I was surprised last summer to find that five years had gone in my garden-level (read: mostly underground), two-room home with drop ceilings and weird paneling on the walls.
As it turns out, I haven’t needed anything else. And I’ve been happy here.
Last night I sailed in the door after a typically busy day and set about to start dinner. I looked at my mess in the kitchen and thought “I don’t even have that much stuff, but somehow it has all congregated on the kitchen counters”. And then I thought about all the other stuff in the cabinets and closets. Can I still say “I don’t have that much stuff”?
I had a professor once who said “I hope this generation has guilt about justice the same way mine had guilt about sex”. I can assure him, we do, or at least I do. I believe it is wrong to have more than I need, yet I look around and see a closet full of clothes and a nice car and books overflowing to every corner of the apartment, and I feel guilty.
I do not want to want these things. I want it to be easy to “give away all I have and follow me”, but if I were asked today could I? This is where my spirit lives right now, and may for a long time. I’m fighting off the onslaught of stuff – or trying to convince myself that I am not complicit in my own aggregation of things I don’t need. Part of my heart believes that it is immoral to have more than I need, but clearly there is part of me that is fine with it.
When I was an undergrad and went to the outskirts of Tijuana to build houses, I returned with the requisite culture shock and discomfort. After a few weeks of not knowing what to do in this culture, it occurred to me that I had to bloom where I was planted. I was born in a hospital in Hartford, not in a village in a third-world country, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.
Here I am, in a culture that doesn’t satisfy my desire for justice and rightness (but could any culture do so?). I know I have to swim in it. I know I have no choice. But I have to have a choice, or rather I have to make a thousand choices every day, striking that balance of blooming where I’m planted and living a moral and just life.
I don’t mind guilt. Sometimes we should feel guilty – it’s a sign that we’re not doing it right. Maybe part of opting for the poor is feeling guilty about having more than them. Maybe the guilt is a blessing, a sign that I have not yet lost the itch for goodness, and that I haven’t missed my opportunity to be numbered among those who hunger and thirst for justice.