Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Luxury of Certainty

Shweta Raghu '15

       When I removed my dust mask and returned to the hostel after our work at the Manna  building site yesterday, I had a new nickname: The Stairmaster. No, it as not because of my love for the gym-machine-of-joy, but because I spent the whole workday scraping and sweeping mud, paint, and other debris off several flights of stairs. Yes, it may sound like extremely boring and repetitive labor. And don't get me wrong, it was repetitive (scrape, sweep, move down one step, repeat), and (dare I say) boring at times, but it made me think. About what we had been doing on the trip, and what I was hoping to learn.   
       In fact, we had been doing repetitive tasks almost every day. For many of us, repetitive to the point of frustration- at least while we were doing the jobs and immediately afterwards. But during our daily reflections, I found that many of my most positive experiences were seemingly pointless and repetitive tasks.

       Last Sunday,  several members of our group went to the National Cathedral for the service. I had never been to a Sunday service before, let alone one at the National Cathedral. I particularly remember the preacher's sermon about the God and the Israelites. The message was ultimately that people often lose sight of their blessings when they are faced with some sort of bother or adversity, but should strive to always remember what they should be thankful for.        I completely agreed with the preacher's message that Sunday, and never realized that the story applied to me. Just like the Israelites, I was losing sight of my blessings.

       It was easy to be annoyed about "pointless" tasks when we could not envision the result of our work. That's probably why most of our tasks seemed somewhat irritating when we were doing them. But later, I realized that I was losing sight of the future, of the bigger picture, and most of all, of how lucky I was to be able to contribute one small bit to a bigger vision.
      I was forgetting that it was a luxury it was to do the work that we were doing. And that we would all break in the middle of the day to eat our prepacked lunches and end as soon clean-up started at 4:00, even if the work was not done. The people we were trying to help did not usually have those luxuries. That seemed a bit ironic to me.
     When I returned to the hostel that evening, excited to wash off the layer of dirt that had turned my legs completely gray, I tried to remember and reflect. I realized that I was lucky to know that the repetitive tasks we were completing were definitely leading to a known result. And then I realized that for the homeless, every day could be a conglomeration of repetitive and unenjoyable tasks. But they did not have the luxury of relative certainty that we did. Even though so much is uncertain in our world, we are sure that our basic needs will be met, and that most of our actions would have a visible and relatively quick result. But not everyone can have confidence in this.
     The next time I smell the inside of a dust mask, I will remember this.  The confidence that my project would probably be finished, and the confidence that I can get to eat if I got hungry in the middle of it. But I will also remember those who do not have that certainty and confidence. Perhaps this is a lesson we should all learn from that sermon.

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