A trip to India, sponsored by her inner-city Brisbane suburban parish, has changed the way ALLY LYNCH looks at life and the Church
MANY people my age – 18 – have difficulty finding the relevance of the Church in the 21st century.
Anyone who has been to a foreign country can understand – it’s rather hard to understand what someone is trying to say when they’re talking in another language.
Ironically, it was because of a trip to a foreign country that I began to understand the Church a little better.
The Toowong parish pastoral council sent me to India in January and not only did I learn how to eat with my hands, but I finally learned why it is that my faith, our faith, has managed to survive for more than 2000 years.
Before India, I had sort of decided that because the Church wasn’t making the effort to speak my language, I wasn’t going to make the effort to understand it.
That’s the attitude of many people my age.
The media has done a wonderful job of highlighting the things the Church isn’t handling so well and has conveniently neglected to mention the thousands of things it’s doing right.
India gave me a glimpse of just a few of these “rights”.
Every day, thousands of kids in rural villages in India receive an education because of the Church.
As a consequence, thousands of families are given a chance to lift themselves out of poverty.
As much as I struggle with the Church’s position on a few different things, I’ll always be proud of my faith because of the people I met while I was away.
I was given so much through this trip and it seems wrong to keep it to myself. That’s why I’ve written this.
This will not be a glorified account of a trip to a third world country, where I tell you that I now lead a completely different life.
I’ll admit that when I got on the plane and buckled up, I believed I was setting off on a trip that would change my life.
After coming home and letting the trip sink in I’ve decided that this very high expectation can, for the most part, be put down to all the stories I read before I set off.
Every second traveller was telling me it would “completely change my life” and I would never be able to waste money again.
I’ll tell you now that I still have trouble managing my practically non-existent student income and I’m still feeding my caffeine addiction.
Reading this, you might be thinking I didn’t have a ridiculously amazing, eye-opening experience.
Believe me when I say that I did.
It just didn’t completely change my life.
I don’t know whether people say this to quash the guilt.
You can’t help but feel it when you look at the way some people live and compare it to your comparatively comfy existence.
But some of the people I travelled with decided that, “the poor have it better” – that how they live and how we live is just “different”.
The number of blogs I’ve read where travellers have said with great conviction that they’ve completely changed “how” they live in order to exist more simply “like the poor” is astounding.
To say that the poor live “simply” is one of the greatest under-statements ever.
Secondly, it seems some people conveniently forget to “go without” a few key things and gloss over what it is to really live in poverty.
Unless they had a particularly good experience with street food, I can’t imagine these “completely changed” travellers will have come home and decided to wash up their plates in the gutter.
I also seriously doubt that they came home and converted their wonderfully clean toilet bowls into quaint holes in the ground.
I would be surprised if they all decided they didn’t really need a bed, an education, an understanding of their rights or the capacity to speak freely and openly about their opinions and beliefs too.
This is “how” the poor in India live.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to give up my toothbrush or my capacity to bore people with my opinion anytime soon.
I hope to speak louder than some of the other accounts out there that try to placate those of us who have plenty – the stories that convince us that those with nothing are content – that those who live with less don’t know any better, and therefore want nothing more.
I find this idea really hard to swallow. Those born into poverty are just as human as you or I.
Like any person, they have the ability to dream and the capacity to want more.
I worry sometimes, that people get two very different ideas confused – that is, “how” you live and the “way” you live.
If I learnt anything while I was away, it is that happiness is sourced from the latter.
I can appreciate how the confusion has come about though. I was never short of a smile in India. The people seemed genuinely happy.
This was the hardest thing for me to digest. How could people be so happy with so little – was it because they had so little?
Does this mean that “stuff” or “comfort” gets in the way of being happy?
The most obvious difference between their lives and my own were the circumstances in which they were living.
I was yet to uncover the quieter differences.
Much to my surprise, it was not the holy priests or enlightened monks that helped me understand the true source of their happiness (although they had a good crack at it) – it was nine-year-old Neerage that hit the nail on the head.
I was having a bad afternoon and he came up to me asking what was wrong.
I didn’t know how to tell him in Hindi that I was freaking out about my university timetable so I opted for the more simple “Nothing big, how’s your day?”.
He told me he had a sad morning but, despite this, he felt lucky “the day had arrived”.
I didn’t really understand at the time what he was talking about, or why he felt particularly “lucky” that day.
I found out later one of his brothers, all the boys in the orphanage call each other “brother”, had died that morning. It blew my mind.
What an incredible “way” to look at a day.
Despite the fact he had lost someone close, he was still able to appreciate the day purely because of the fact that it had arrived.
I think this is where the smiles come from.
The people I met were so familiar with death that despite what they didn’t have – they were aware of and could therefore be thankful for the one thing they “were” given in simply waking up – another chance to live, laugh, smile and be with the ones they loved.
It was at this point that I had found the quiet difference between their world and my own.
It wasn’t just their circumstance that was different; the “way” they chose to look at life was also completely different.
It is this point that I think people miss.
I want people to realise that these smiles are not the product of a “simple” life – because of “how” they live.
It’s because they choose to focus on what they have been given – because of the “way” they live.
Equally, the reason more people seem unhappy at home isn’t because of the fact that they “have too much stuff”.
It’s because we have a tendency to focus on the stuff we don’t have.
I came home understanding just how lucky I am to have what I have – and how destructive it can be to focus on what’s missing.
India did not change my life, but it has certainly changed the way I look at it.
I realised that to really make a difference with what I saw in India, I feel like I have a kind of duty to remind people that tomorrow is not a given.
We spend so much time planning for a day that might not come, instead of focusing on the moments we have right in front of us.
Maybe this is what the “changed” travellers were trying to say when they said “it completely changed my life”.
I want people to have an honest appreciation of how hard it is to live in a third world country.
I want people to know that change needs to happen. But I also want to share with you the wonderful things I learnt in observing the way these people cope with poverty, and that just as much as we can reach out to them, they have things to give us too.
I believe I saw the best in humanity while I was away, but I think I saw some of the darkest shades too.
Words cannot explain the suffering that billions of people, every day, endure because of the circumstances they have no choice but to live in.
We all have the opportunity to make a change. We should use the privileges we were born with to make a difference.
Change is not a one-way street. Despite how little these people have, they still have something to offer us – an alternative way of looking at life.
They are a daily encouragement to change the “way” we think, so that we really appreciate what’s in front of us.
They are a constant reminder to focus on the positives. It’s so easy to get caught up in our own stressful bubbles. Sometimes we need a little something to remind us of how lucky we are.
Instead of dreading the alarm clock blaring in the morning, try to welcome it.
You’ve been given something millions were not – another chance – another day.
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