Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's not really that hard to say "thanks."

Paul and I went home for a short time in the middle of the day today, and when we were pulling up to the house, we saw the mail van stop in front of our neighbor's house. The mailman got out and we got to our front gate at about the same time he did. Paul surprised me by exclaiming, "So you're our mailman! We haven't met you yet." He said this warmly and threw out his hand for a shake. The mailman looked up shyly and then smiled, taking Paul's hand. He said, "My name is Armen." Paul said, "Thanks for bringing us our mail!" They shook hands and the man was positively glowing as if someone had just given him a thousand dollars. He gave Paul the mail and went on his way looking pleased.

I was impressed by my husband's kindness to someone he doesn't know and hasn't met before. I wonder if anyone has ever told that mailman thank you. It's strange to think that we never think of thanking people like mailmen. They just do their jobs day after day and we benefit. But I could tell this man's day was improved so much from the simple act. It makes me want to thank people more often.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

We tend to do what's easy.

As Paul and I have been reading through the Uglies series, (We're on the third book.) some interesting themes have been emerging. Scott Westerfeld cleverly skirts all around the issue without ever actually asking the question, "Should people be allowed to make their own choices?" The story practically screams the question, but the characters never ask it directly. It's so brilliantly done, and it has caused me to reflect on the question.

Should people be allowed to make their own choices?

It seems obvious to say, "Well, of course." But when you stop to think about it, there is a sticky issue involved with that answer. If people are allowed to make their own choices, they might make bad choices. History shows the sad reality that people usually DO make bad choices. That's probably because bad choices are usually easier than good choices. It's so much easier to, say, get addicted to the drugs your friends are taking than it is to opt out or find new friends. The choice with the least resistance is the one most people will take.

Consider the Holocaust. We always stare in horrified awe at the Nazi soldiers that carried out their millions of murders and wonder how they could have done it. It's not really so hard to figure out when you see that going along with what the superiors said to do was simply easier than resisting. And now we have a huge bloody stain on our history that proves just what people CAN do with their choices.

But there's another side to all this. Sure, we all have the potential to do terrible things. We can hurt each other, stop each other from progressing, oppress and victimize and kill each other. We can even do these things without feeling bad once we get to a certain point... But every day we can make choices of the other kind. We can be kind to each other. We can give and love and serve each other. We can build each other up and work together.

Strangely, history seems to be lacking in these kinds of stories. We hear occasionally of people like Mother Teresa or Gandhi who have touched many people, but we don't hear much about all the little kindnesses that people have been showing each other since the beginning of time. Why is that?

I've been realizing that we have to have the possibility of making bad choices in order to learn how to make good ones. As terrible as it is to see all the ways that people will destroy themselves and each other, it's necessary for each of them to have choices. I should say each of us. This life-defining struggle that we all endure is so essential if we are to grow, if we are to learn. And when you make yourself into someone wonderful-- it's great to know that you chose to be who you are. No one made you be as you are and no one can choose for you. That's a comforting thought for those of us who are trying.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Equivalent Exchange.

Paul and I love an anime series called Fullmetal Alchemist, and we watched it a couple of years ago. It has a lot of wonderful complexities and fabulous characters. I like it better than all the day-time television shows we've sampled (Lost, Heroes, 24, The 4400). These alchemists in the story believe in the concept of equivalent exchange. They have the power to take a bunch of loose materials and make them into something-- the idea is that you could rearrange the structure of the materials (if you have them in the correct amounts) and nothing would be lost. Two young boys try to recreate life in this way, and it doesn't quite work out as they expect. As the series progresses, they learn that there is no such thing as equivalent exchange. Everything has to come from somewhere, and no matter what your intentions, you never quite get back in equivalent amounts what you have given. Eventually they learn that even the very power of alchemy that they so cherish comes at the cost of human suffering and death.

I was thinking of Fullmetal Alchemist yesterday when I watched a video in my Anthropology class. It was about the coffee trade. The consumers of coffee the world over have no idea where their coffee comes from or how the retailers that they buy from exploit those who grow the coffee. The peoples of Ethiopia depend completely on the revenues they earn from the coffee they grow. They literally have no other crops and no way to feed themselves except to buy exported foods. They are at the mercy of the global economy and literally starve to death if people don't buy their coffee. The corporate giants who purchase their coffee pay them $0.12 for the same amount of coffee they sell for $320! (You know SOMEBODY'S pocket it getting lined...) These people are so poor, too, that they live 15 people to a tiny one-bedroom house and they can't send their little children to school. The plain facts presented in the film were disturbing and undeniable. They work hard from sunup to sundown without the promise that they will have food the next day. It's exploitation in the extreme.

I'd like to comfort myself by saying that I've never drunk a cup of coffee in my life. While that is true, I know that the story of coffee is just one of so many. In cozy, comfortable modern America, we never stop to wonder where our comforts come from. Who makes my shoes or sews my clothing together? When I buy something for $15, it was probably made in another country by workers being paid just a few cents. I feel like I'm living in the Fullmetal Alchemist world, learning how all the things I enjoy come at a high cost. There really is no such thing as equivalent exchange.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"I'm gonna soak up the sun, gonna tell everyone to lighten up!"

So... we went to the beach. It was Friday morning and we realized that we will only live in Georgia for just over a month-- and we have yet to see the Atlantic ocean. Paul has seen it before when he lived in Miami, but he wasn't allowed to swim. The entire time I lived in Virginia, I never got to see the ocean, even from a distance. So we went online, found an island off the coast near Savanah, and headed out for a one-night adventure. It was gloriously fun!

When we arrived, it was around 7:00 pm, and the sun had just gone down. We went out to the dark, empty beach and walked along for quite some time, talking and holding hands. The stars were bright overhead and they reflected off the water when it smoothed out between waves. Everything was so quiet except for the sound of the waves, and the water was so warm as it washed over our feet. It was a beautiful night, the kind of experience you can only have once because you just can't recreate perfect circumstances.

In the morning when we went back, the water level had risen considerably so that the entire path that we walked was submerged under several feet of water. Although it is November, the water was quite warm, and the sun was bright. It was so nice. Here are a few pictures.

The one below I took of myself because Paul was not really feeling like taking pictures, and I wanted to document the fact that I was there too.

After we got our fill of sun, we went to a restaurant called The Crab Shack, and it made us feel like we had really gone to the South. We were served ridulously huge portions of crab legs, shrimp with butter, craw fish, and sausage. There was, in fact, almost no carbohydrate to the whole meal. Each plate came with a tiny half-cob of corn. We order some potatoes, and they only gave us about a half-cup. The huge portions of protein were incredibly satisfying, but the lack of carbs made us feel like we hadn't really eaten, even though our stomachs were beyond full.
The seafood was so good and there was so much of it that I kept imagining that we were glutonous royalty, stuffing ourselves with more protein than we could possibly require. I kept imagining a starving child begging us for food. We'd laugh and say, "You should have thought of that before you became peasants!"
The Crab Shack was decked out with all things alligator-- including live alligators that you could feed. They were awesome! This last picture is of Paul posing by a sign they had put up. It made me laugh.
Tybee Island was a cool place, both for its beach and for the cultural experience. I recommend it, although it is kind of expensive. Isn't vacation always pricey, though?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Life out in the mission field.

We found a phone number online for the LDS ward in Hays, Kansas. When Paul called it, he found out that the ward there has boundaries that are 60 miles by 100 miles! That means I might have to set aside three or four hours and a bunch of gas money to do my visiting teaching...! Holy cow. Luckily for us, the church building is in Hays, so at least we won't have to drive hours to go to our meetings.

It is really strange to live outside of Utah. When we told people in our BYU ward that we were moving here, a lot of them said, "So you're going out into the mission field." I can see what they mean. Since we've lived here, there have been three new member adult baptisms in our ward. It's pretty exciting!

I'm at the school to write a paper, so I really should stop procrastinating now...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Alligators are alive and well in Georgia.

Yesterday afternoon, Paul and I went to explore a local park that's right in the middle of Augusta. It was a little hard to find because it isn't marked with any signs, but it was really cool! There's a forest area that reminded me a lot of Virginia where I used to walk with my friends. Once within the canopy, you can barely see the sky and everything takes on a dark and twisted aura. It's a lovely dark and twisted, though, the kind of ambiance that sparks the imagination. You wouldn't think there would be much life there, right in the middle of the city, but we saw the most unthinkable thing... an alligator!

There's this swampy place back in the trees where you can stand on a wooden platform overlooking the stagnant, leaf-strewn water. It's strange because the water is so still that it's almost like glass-- and yet it's surface is riddled with tiny ripples, indicating that something is moving in the water. I'm sure it's mostly frogs, newts, and other amphibious things, as well as the gases from certain chemical reactions. But right when we walked up, Paul spotted an alligator swimming silently through the water. He signaled to me, but I didn't see it until right before it went down under the water to hide. It was kind of long hump that arched up a little and then dipped down before my eyes. It was probably three feet long, although that's hard to say with any accuracy.

I was totally shocked to think that people were running around the park with their toddlers, and I hoped that they realized the danger in the swampy part of the park. Wouldn't that be quite the family memory. Little Joey threw his toy out into the water and then waded out to get it. Suddenly a big shape materialized in the water and there was nothing anyone could do but scream in horror...

What can I say? I lean toward drama. If I was bringing my kids to that particular park, though, they would be a very short leash.