Sick and poor, healthy and rich

This is a post about contrasts.

I’ve been sitting in the rooms of and roaming the halls of a very nice hospital this weekend while my husband recovers from surgery. This place is new, luxurious, and even palatial. For example, light streams into the elegant three-story atrium where a grand piano plays Christmas carols in a room of oak paneling and chandeliers. Every patient room is ultra- equipped to handle literally hundreds of medical contingencies; machines and monitors and tubes are ubiquitous. At night, I go upstairs to a lovely family hotel room provided for people like me who need to stay over instead of driving the long trek home (over an hour away for us.)

And though I am incredibly grateful for this excellent care and comfort, my thoughts have also turned this week to the medical conditions I witnessed in Uganda several years ago. Beyond that, I think, too of the news reports we have seen coming out of Aleppo where the last hospitals have been bombed and utterly destroyed. Today as I sit here in lavish conditions, I am aware that in places far away, there are people who have next to nothing.

Years ago on one summer afternoon in Uganda, I was on a leisurely errand for our school that took me out of my normal path. I never minded exploring the town of Gulu; I usually felt very safe walking by myself. I was one of very few white people in that city; I realized later that people noticed us, watched us in an almost protective way. Despite the abject poverty all around us, people did not mug strangers or rob Americans.

But I did NOT feel particularly safe at the moment when a tall, youngish man approached me a bit aggressively and asked for money. This had happened occasionally, and we had been coached to always refuse. But this man was particularly insistent. “Please, Ms, my father is sick. He is in hospital and he is hungry. I need money to buy him his food. I need money to buy him his medicine. “

He was believable. He was desperate. He was assertive. I felt conflicted, knowing that I am gullible and easily conned. (Was he really telling the truth?) So rather than give him money right there, I walked with him toward the hospital. I did not go in, (something I regret now,) but I saw enough to learn that hospitals here and hospitals there are nothing alike. And it was true: there would be no food or medicine or clean sheets for a patient unless the family provided it.

I am glad to have traveled to far away places in my life, and I would travel more often if I could. But what I have seen prompts an essential question that has nagged at me most of my life: Why do I have privilege when so many do not? And what do I do with this privilege?

There is, I think, a start of an answer for me in Christmas. The message of advent is that the King who had everything came to us who had nothing. The one with “privilege” came to experience life as a “have-not.” He, with His power and immortality, with His health and perfection came to this place to be poor and oppressed, to be mortal and sick. And His coming made us better.

I’m not asking us to feel guilty about our wealth this Christmas season. ( Believe me, guilt is not productive, and I certainly don’t want to be in a Ugandan hospital right now while my husband heals.) But perhaps this Christmas we could all use a reminder of our privilege. We could ask ourselves if there’s a way to help someone with less privilege. I’m relatively certain that those of us who are reading this post are more comfortable, more well fed, more healthy, warm, and wealthy than my friends in Uganda or those whose homes and hospitals are rubble on the streets of Allepo today.

I still don’t know WHY some people have so much and some people have so little.   But two things I do know: On a day like today inside this nice hospital, the realization of how much I have makes me grateful.

And secondly, especially during this Christmas season, it is right to imitate Christ. There are contrasts in this world, but love can help bridge the gaps.  Beyond giving gifts to your family and friends, consider giving to organizations that address the plight of desperate people who are suffering because of  poverty, sickness, and oppression. In your place of abundance, remember those who do not have what you have. The king of all showed us what to do with the contrasts He encountered. At Christmas especially, be kind, sacrificial, and generous.



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