“Ooooh, look Paquito, I found me a piece of a poop-covered shoe! Maybe I’ll boil it and eat it for dinner tonight!” Something ass-holish like that.
I expected my companion to laugh at my amazing humor.
Instead, he became infuriated and chewed my ass out without holding anything back.
“Elder Pearce, you do not ever, in front of me, make fun of these people again. Ever. You do not know what kind of lives they have lived that brought them to that trash pile. You do not know what they have been through just to survive. You do not know where their parents are, or if they’re even alive. You do not know where they go at night when they need to sleep. You don’t know anything about those kids. And I promise you, if you…”
“Okay, okay, geez,” I said, cutting him off. And I slunk deep into my seat.
I couldn’t make eye contact with him for the rest of the day. I don’t think we said more than two words to each other the entire trip home.
I could use a cliché and say that I felt like a tiny nothing in that moment, but I won’t. I very much felt like a big something. A big ass. I wanted to wither away and disappear. I was so tied into my first world life and my first world problems, that I could not look at innocent children rummaging through garbage for their own survival and feel even the slightest bit of compassion. Not before he lambasted me the way he did.
And I don’t think I had ever been as thankful for any lesson as I was for that one, that day on the bus. In one twenty second diatribe, a friend shook me enough to teach me compassion for others. He loved me enough to silence my idiocy. For good.
As I think back to that trash pile, and those tiny children rummaging through it, I can’t help but think how the further I get away from it, the easier it becomes to not care anymore. The more time dims that memory, the more I forget that there is real struggling and real poverty in this world.
And even worse, I forget how much I have. I forget how blessed I truly am. I begin focusing on what I want and what I don’t have instead. I forget that I’m just another all-important, well fed, giant white man.
And it was luck only that made me that. I chose to be born in the place, time, and family I was born into as much as those Mexican children chose to be born into theirs, and just as much as someone chose to be born into the ghetto, or China, or in some bathroom at Denny’s.
Which is to say, I didn’t choose it at all, neither did you, and neither did anyone else.
So how can I ever be so underdeveloped, and so ignorant, as to forget that?
I truly believe that laughing at inappropriate things is an essential skill that we must all learn.
But what I said as we passed the garbage pile that day was a true sign of my immaturity. It was a sign of doucheyness. It was a sign of the sense of entitlement I so obviously carried. There was nothing funny about it.
I have come to believe that in such moments is where we begin to differentiate ourselves as wise or foolish people. When we learn the difference between the inappropriate things we can laugh at, and what ultimately should be off limits, we become better people.
And I hope for the rest of my life, my friends will care about me as much as my companion did, and fiercely call me out on it should I ever slip into such thinking or entitled jeering again.
Dan Pearce, from my book: The All-Important, Well-Fed, Giant White Man
Last Chapter: My Punch Drunk Sister
Next up: Taking a Baseball Bat to… Myself
If you would like to start from the beginning, or catch up on a missed chapter, you’ll find all the chapters I’ve published so far by clicking here.
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