There and Back Again

So, I’ve been back from K-town for a week now. I have to say, it’s interesting being home. Rambling thoughts to follow.

The culture here continually shocks me but I’m thinking that it has less and less to do with living in Afghanistan for the past year. I’m just amazed at the pointless lives that so many of us (yes, I’m including myself in this) lead.

Cutting through the BS, to the heart of the matter. I think it generally comes down to what we put our hope/faith into. I myself, in spite of my numerous faults, choose to believe that there is something going on behind what we see everyday. There are things at work of which very few people have a firm grasp, and that many wouldn’t even want a glimpse into if they were offered one. Call me religious, call me spiritual, say it’s a crutch… well, I’d rather have a crutch than be crawling.

there_and_back_again_b-759485If there are two things that I will take from this past year, they would be that I have a better sense of my own limitations and that I hope I never work for a government.

I’ve done some things this past year that I never envisioned myself doing. Living in Afghanistan was actually not one of these. I’m actually more comfortable living in a war zone than I am in the US. Maybe not everything about it… reliable security situations, uninterrupted electricity and basic creature comforts would be nice. What I mean is that I appreciate the candid-ness of Afghanistan. What you see is what you get. Government officials and tons of others may be looking for bribes, but at least you know that if you pay it you’ll get what (most of the time) you pay for. With the US government, I’m convinced that the bribes (or incentives, what ever you want to call them) are too big to slip into a palm. Not that I support paying bribes, but it’s its own form of twisted transparency. Here, what you see is… well, what ever you’re wanted to see.

I see my own limitations in that there is a finite amount of things for which I can actually take responsibility. I can only control so much. This may be obvious to most of you, and sure, it’s obvious to me… that doesn’t mean I have to like it. In all reality, towards the end of this year, it was hard for me to even control the way I reacted to certain things. Parents wanting more discounts on their children’s tuition, USAID saying that they’re going to do another pointless audit on our school (when they’re the ones that should be jailed or at least penalized for their idiotic waste of taxpayer money), or any number of things that happened while I was in Afghanistan or continue to happen as I’m here. I’m incredibly limited in my areas of knowledge, even more limited in expertise. With that, I’m well aware that life contains more instances of “on the job training” than classroom instruction. While the latter is preferable, the former is inescapable. So be it.

I’m also well aware that expecting people to act for what you (or I for that matter) perceive as the greater good is generally a pipe dream. How often are phrases like “the next generation” or “leaving a better planet for our children” (speaking environmentally, yes, but also in every other way) merely just rhetorical phrases from politicians or whoever bent on getting re-elected, or the secure that lucrative contract? When you get down to it, money does indeed make the world go round. Or, more to the point, that the belief that money makes the world go round makes our world spin round the way it does. If you’re still with me, which I can hardly blame you if you’re not, what I’m saying is that the things that we put our hope and faith in tend to be limited to our own lifetime. Honestly, if I thought that this world was all there was to it, then I would be pretty eager to just get it over with. No, I’m nor suicidal or nihilistic…. the very opposite. Maybe you think that I could possibly be over spiritualizing things. Well, your thoughts are your thoughts I guess.

My crutch however, if you insist on calling it that, is paramount to my existence and function as a human being. Even if there was nothing after this life, no heaven or hell, no eternal reward or punishment, I would still choose to act as if there was. There is nothing on this Earth that will motivate someone to act unselfishly. Love tends to be the exception. It’s the exception that I try (and often fail) to live for. I love my family, I love the students I get to interact with in Afghanistan, I love my coworkers, I love God. Although my actions are almost never purely altruistic, I can generally say that most times they are at least partially altruistic. That’s the best I’ve got right now.

I’m generally disgusted by the lack of foresight that I see around me. I don’t claim to understand all that goes on but I do claim to have a view of the bigger picture. Money is temporary, success in the eyes of the world is a generally unsatisfying thing. I’m tired of trying to accumulate my own little pile of ashes.

I wish I could tell you what a life worth living actually is, well… I’m pretty sure that I can. Just ask. I’m not saying that life is without hope, I’m just saying that where many of us look for that hope is nothing but nothing. I hope that you have a job where you’re fulfilled, where you can feel good about what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day. That, in itself, is the hope that we all need. However, I don’t think that this hope can be sustained by anything that we do on this Earth in a normal routine. I’m convinced that there is only one way to have this hope sustained, feel free to ask what it is.

How big is your ash pile? Bigger than the next guy’s? Well, good for you. But you know, it’s still ashes. You can’t take it with you, and would you even want to? Do you live for something that will outlive you? I’m not saying that everyone needs to change the world as a whole, but will it be any different when you leave it? Perhaps more importantly, will the change be good or bad? It’s not really that hard to figure out what’s “good or bad,” … spare me and the rest of the world your philosophical bullshit.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes.

“When you’ve looked into some dirty, nasty closet of our world, instead of wringing your hands and praying for God’s will… grab a mop.” -Dr. Mark Rutland



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