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Images: an abandoned / foreclosed home in Detroit, Michigan, USA.

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Life in a Bubble

EK ONG KAAR KAUR

 

 

 

When I turned 40 years old, I had an epiphany.

It was a very humble epiphany, actually.

I was standing in my kitchen, cutting some vegetables on my cutting board, the friendly pattern of the blue and white tile of the kitchen counter framing the cutting board and the food. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it occurred to me: I am 40 years old, and I have never gone hungry a single day in my life.

It struck me as extraordinary, really. That every day for 40 years, I had always had three meals to eat, available to me for the asking.

It was not that I had eaten every single day in my life. Sometimes, for spiritual reasons, I might fast for a day. Or, of course, if I had a fever and lost my appetite - that was an issue. But the basic fact was that I always had access to more than enough food.

Was it true of other people sharing this planet with me? No.

Was it true of my ancestors? No. In fact, the epiphany had an almost genetic quality to it. It felt like the DNA in my body was shocked to realize that I had lived such a life. 40 years and not one day of hunger.

Since that window opened in my awareness, I have paid attention to what else I take for granted.

I have never physically been in a war zone. I have never wondered where I would sleep. I do not live in a house with someone who abuses me. I have had an historically unprecedented access to education for a woman, compared to the generations that have come before me.

It has been a very protected life. Like living in a bubble.

This evening, I watched a TV program with a well-known public television host, Charlie Rose. He was playing host to a roundtable of journalists discussing the US economy. They were bemoaning the trials and tribulations of the middle class. What economic policies might be able to bring it back. What challenges needed to be faced.

Listening to them speak, it seemed that none of them would entertain the possibility that the middle class may never come back. That the American Dream might need to transform.

Perhaps we really need to start discussing how we are going to care for all the poor people in this country? The hungry? The displaced and dispossessed?

There may never be enough well-aying jobs again to pull everyone back from the edge.

My life has unfolded in this surreal Golden Age.

My grandmother lived through the Great Depression. She knew hardship. She appreciated the good times because she had memories of the bad times.

My father was a child during World War II. He remembered the rationing. He remembered the difficulties. It also gave him an appreciation for the good times.

But as I have grown up, the message has always seemed to be that the US will perpetually have good times. The economy might go down for a while, but it will always come back. Wars are things that happen in distant lands where we send our soldiers, but never on our own territory.

We suffer from hubris here. A belief in some Divine Providence who has a soft corner for us, that things can never get "that bad" in this country.

And I wonder how many of us are living a bubble life?

Challenges are not something to be afraid of. The old adage is right - they build character. If everyone keeps waiting on a fantasy or a prayer that some day "things will be good again," it means we do not have the guts to face what is wrong. We spend time building castles in the air: if this policy would get implemented, or that restructuring were to happen, then somewhere down the road in a misty future, everything would go back to the way it was.

But perhaps the truth is that the economy has just fundamentally changed. It might be time to begin asking the tough questions.

"How can we start dealing with the suffering people are going through right now?"

In terms of social programs, I have always believed the Sikh Gurus created the best.

If civilization ever collapsed, the Gurus left us a pretty simple blue print for how to rebuild it. Stay together. Create a safe place where people can take a bath. Feed everyone there. Meditate. And then work together to build something.

The American Dream used to be having access to education and a job to create upward mobility. And that dream has not completely disappeared, but fewer and fewer people can realize it.

Maybe it is time for a new dream. Maybe it is time to grow food locally on all the foreclosed properties in big cities like Detroit. Properties that are standing there doing nothing. Maybe it is time to distribute good, healthy food grown on those properties FREELY to people who have fallen through the economic safety net. Who need to eat. Maybe it is time to identify service projects people can do in their communities: help clean up something, or visit the sick. Bring a sense of purpose back into the hearts of those who have watched their "productivity" become "obsolete" in a "global" economy. Maybe we need to stop waiting for the middle class to come back, and we need to create a selfless-service class, instead.

After all, what is life? What gives it meaning and purpose? What we do for each other?

The way we take care of each other. The evolution of the heart and the spirit is the only thing that really counts in the end.

Some days, I watch myself get upset when things do not turn out the way I had hoped. And frankly, I feel ashamed when that happens. I see myself as a petty, spoiled child who has forgotten all the blessings. When did I learn to demand? When did I pick up the idea that life is about the Universe catering to me?

Guru Arjan's words from Sukhmani come handy in those moments.

You, Yourself, are the Banker
Whose wealth cannot be measured,
And You bestow Your capital upon us.
Eating and drinking,
We use it for our pleasure.
Then, O Banker, from the deposit You made,
You take something back,
Causing the ignorant mind
To become angry.
Because of that anger, we lose Your trust
And then our own confidence disappears.
Whatever your capital, place it
Before the One.
Trust and accept
The order of the Creator
On your forehead.
By doing so, you shall flourish
Four times over.
O Nanak,
The Master’s kindness extends forever.

[Ashtpadi 5; Verse 2]

As I watched that economic discussion on TV and noticed that I am 45 and still have never gone a day without food, I realized it is time to get real. The conversation needs to shift.

It is no longer about what we think we should get in the future.

It is about seeing what we have on hand right now, today, and how we can take care of each other with it.

 

July 30, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Rup Singh (Canada), July 30, 2013, 3:24 PM.

They have started urban farming in Detroit a while back. Hundreds of thousands of vacant lots available due a large portion of the population moving away in the last 20 years. Most city people are unable to farm, some can't afford the resources to get the soil ready for farming. Also, because of the short growing season, can it be a viable business? Now some big companies are coming in and buying large tracts of land at very very low prices. Cannot totally rule out the fact that the rich will get richer with the help of city hall. The land use bylaws play a role as well. Very nice article. Sure makes one think. Thanks.

2: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), July 31, 2013, 3:37 AM.

Yes, business has gone down in the US and the world, and has brought in a lot of pain and suffering. The US still serves its population through social security, but imagine the situation in other countries where this benefit does not exist. Governments tax you for good times. However, during tough times there are no compensations for their populace in most other countries. Contributing to this is the ability of those who have plenty to bypass rules and regulations, which if followed would have not only helped in securing a prolonged existence of the business but also the working and the middle class. Corporate culture with social obligations is only practiced in schools of management. In practice this is overshadowed by the personal whims of the major stake holders. America has offered a lot of jobs to the world at large, it has ushered in a significant change in lifestyle in the developing world. This factor has enabled business of all types to flourish and prosper both on-shore and off-shore. Then why have things gone wrong? Experts can answer this in their own way, but what is needed is a serum that can help the classes and masses to survive. Lot of factors have been at play but most prominent have been the ones where the individual never looked beyond himself. Its therefore extremely important that just as a plant needs care and nourishment along with a suitable environment, industry and society too need to be nurtured with care. Exploiting situations for personal wealth and benefits at this juncture will not help at all, hence a collective effort is required to overcome this crisis lest it becomes irreversible, inviting pain and suffering. Together, it can be overcome.

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