“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.” —Indian Proverb
This could easily be confused with a list of things for which I am grateful, because I am. But it is actually a list of luxuries, which I’ve taken for granted.
Katie and I just returned from a trip to India and Nepal, traveling most of the time with students. About a third of the time we stayed in modest, business class hotels (their business class, not ours), and we also stayed in private homes and guest houses.
There were moving encounters, thought-provoking moments, beautiful vistas, about which I will be writing. There was also spiritual oppression and darkness. I will write about that too. And about third-world airports, or rather third-world service in first-world airports. That too is a topic for another day.
But this is about the extravagance of our daily lives, which we noticed as soon as we returned and which we hope not to forget any time soon. This extravagance includes toilet paper. And wash cloths. And paper towels.
These are missing when you are out on the street with dirty public restrooms, as you might expect but not get used to. But they are also missing everywhere else, even in hotels that cater to Westerners. This is not a problem with their culture; it is a privilege of ours. They don’t consider the absence of these things shortages; they just don’t consider them necessities.
And then there is water. In remote villages it is scarce and in cities it is dirty. Here, it is clean, available, and, if you want, hot. I spent two weeks without a hot shower, but I took both a hot bath and a hot shower the first 24 hours I was home. Because I could. The list goes on. Trash cans, for instance. In Kolkata you just throw trash on the streets and someone sweeps it up at night. Maybe.
Ours is an abundance of wealth, that includes safe fresh vegetables, clean drinking water, consistent electricity, reliable Internet—even in Horton. We have washing machines and dryers. We even have courteous, organized traffic. Seriously. Cars wait their turn. So do people in line. You can’t appreciate that until you have been to a place where it just doesn’t happen. Ever. In India and Nepal honking is not even rude; it is essential, as traffic lanes disappear in a sea of rickshaws and motorcycles.
I also haven’t been cold since I returned, except for the afternoon I changed a tire in the snow. In Nepal we sat in public restaurants with our coats on—because there was no heat and the windows were open. It was in the 40’s and 50’s, not nearly as cold as it is here in the Midwest, but central heat and air is a luxury the rest of the world lives without.
They live without a lot of things. I suppose I could thank the Puritans for these niceties, with their clean, industrious ways. I’m sure I can thank the Lord, whose mercies are new every morning—even in Nepal. But right now I just want to remember how rich I am. True wealth is in the appreciation of our resources, not the accumulation of them.
I plan to appreciate them more.