Traveling home from Africa this time was the most hellish trip ever. It wasn’t for the fact there was a crying baby on every single flight. It wasn’t for the fact my daughter accidentally packed her shampoo in her carry-on creating a long delay for us during security checks. It also wasn’t for the fact that her “slip up” must have, apparently, created terrorist suspicion of me, so the Frenchy she-man, who knew we were dangerously close to missing our flight, proceeded to slowly comb through my carry-on with microscopic detail – making me open up all our Moroccan gifts of nuts and dates then sniffing and fingering them, then sifting through each tile of our Bananagrams and Pairs of Pears games, followed by unwrapping our bubble-wrapped Moroccan pottery, and even frisking all my dirty underwear (seriously?) – causing us to sprint to our gate to catch our connection to London. It wasn’t for the fact that the video system was broke on our long flight so we couldn’t watch any movies, or that the 8 hour flight was extended to 9 from poor weather, or that even my African-mutt street dog would have pulled up her nose at the in-flight food. And it wasn’t even made hellish because we landed in Chicago in the middle of a “Polar Vortex”, where much of the city was paralyzed from arctic temperatures hovering at -25F keeping us stranded in Chicago for a night.
No, it was none of those reasons that made this the worst trip ever. It was because we were suffering from a bad case of “knowing”. Knowing means you can’t, or at least shouldn’t, ignore the problems anymore. We have always told our kids, “With knowledge comes responsibility.” This plane ride was painful simply because we had been reminded once again of our responsibilities to those that are struggling in the world and we were forced to confront the truth that we had grown dispassionate.
Spending this past week in Morocco was like peeking our heads out from under the covers of our warm, comfortable bed. We smelled, tasted, felt and experienced life outside of our peaceful, safe, suburban-middle-class, American slumber. When you peek your head outside the covers the immediate frigid cold blast that slaps your face is the realization that much of the world is suffering. It suffers from the relentless grip of poverty, it suffers under the tyrannical rule of dictators, it suffers as children are forced into slavery and to be soldiers in a war they don’t want or understand, it suffers as girls (even as young as 6 yrs.) are chained to beds naked and forced to have sex as often as 20 times a day, it suffers as families who fear genocide must flee from the only home they’ve known and move to another country to live in a tent and squalor for decades, and it suffers when all these things and so many, many more are taking place this very moment and we refuse to do our part. If I am honest, I must admit that our 2 ½ years back in the states has slowly induced a state of drowsiness, where we were sheltered from the world’s problems and were focusing more on ourselves and our stupid little first-world problems. It happened insidiously, but we had begun caring too much about things like finding all the right Christmas presents, our kids’ getting enough playing time in their sports activities, our favorite collegiate teams winning in sports, having the right outfit to wear to parties, redecorating our house, or planning our next vacation. Do not misunderstand me here: none of those things are necessarily bad in and of themselves. But if we allow these things to define our existence, then we may need to stick our heads out from under the covers. The world is huge, the needs of this world are catastrophic, and I believe we are NOT supposed to live in a myopic, self-serving slumber, but that we have been called by the Creator of this Universe to engage somehow, some way, to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. To do that, we must be informed of the great needs of our day, whether in some far-off land, our own city, or our own backyard. And then, with palms open heavenward, dare to ask of God, “What about me, Lord? How do you want to use me?”
I have often wondered if the reason our Lord has tarried so long in returning is because He was waiting for the information age. He knew that there would come a day whereby the click of a button would give us access to information regarding the human condition everywhere else in the world. Before the internet, I’m not sure we would have been held accountable for understanding and responding to the suffering in the world. Now, we have no excuse. We all know. Or do we? We also can choose to not click that button and not look at what is happening outside the warmth and comfort of our plush, 400-count, down-filled duvet covers. We can keep our heads buried if we want to. We can choose ignorance – and maybe that feels good for a time because we don’t have to own the pain of the world’s suffering. I will agree – it is painful to stick your face out of the covers and experience that cold blast wake-up call. But as we flew home on that treacherous, hellish flight, and as I wrestled with the pain of “re-awakening” to the suffering in Morocco, I decided ignorance might be bliss, but knowing is better. I refuse to live my life choosing to ignore that which I believe God has called us to engage.
When I didn’t know I had this incurable lung disease, I was blissfully ignorant. Those cysts have been on my lungs for many months, probably even years, I just didn’t know it and I lived my life as if they were NOT there. I was aimlessly meandering through life almost as if I were immortal – believing there would always be time later to get my life in order and do the really important stuff. When I first received my diagnosis I was devastated – furious with God to the point of giving Him the silent treatment (27 years of marriage and resorting to the silent treatment in our big fights and I still haven’t learned that it is childish and entirely useless…). Yet, I now see that God was lovingly allowing me to come to terms with my mortality. And it is because of that diagnosis that I re-evaluated everything and am choosing a more pointed, focused and engaged life. It was nice when I didn’t know about the disease because I could ignorantly live my life under the warm and comfortable covers and believe everything to be just fine. Yet, my lungs were being invaded by disease! Everything was not fine at all! Even though I’m now aware this disease may take my life, and it was pure pain getting that news, I still believe knowing is better.
One day, after I had received my diagnosis, I was sitting in our comfy chair facing out to our wooded backyard. I sat in silence with God and felt a chill down my spine as I took in the view. Everything appeared incredibly spectacular: the sun seemed brighter than ever before, the snow seemed whiter, a cardinal perched on a low-hanging tree branch seemed redder, and the sky seemed bluer. I soaked it all in and found myself acutely aware of every single gifted breath I was taking. I knew I’d been given new eyes – and I saw that all things had become more remarkable and noteworthy and magical – and I don’t think I would have taken back my old eyes even if God had offered.
Ignorance is bliss, but knowing is better.