Things that Matter.

After spending time in Ethiopia, I got a new perspective on life. Sure, I’d seen the hardships of the third world via news, the internet, etc. But, it’s so different when it penetrates you. I never lived there in the smoggy city of Addis, or the rural plains of southern Ethiopia, but my daughter did, and easily still could. When you come face to face with the home of five million orphans, and one of them is now a huge part of your life, you see things differently.

And, you find yourself reacting in funny ways, too. Like, I can no longer go get my hair highlighted. Something about spending this astronomical amount of cash to get a few strands of hair bleached is no longer digestible when several African children have grabbed my own two wrists and pleaded for my charity. Some of their faces still haunt me at times. For instance, when Patrick and I were handing out some mere vitamin C drops from my purse, and I ran out before one particular little got one. She gave me a look that has me believing she still isn’t over it to this day.

It’s not like I’ve given up all the luxuries of life as a result. Hardly. But I do look at how I spend my money, and there are a few things I just can’t bring myself to indulge upon, because they seem like such unnecessary things in comparison to food and clothing and arts. Thus, something like a pricey salon trip simply doesn’t fall into the category of things that matter. No discrimination here, AT ALL. … It’s just my own guilt at being born into such a privileged world. Especially when there are times where I’m not thinking that way and find myself wanting for more.

This week was a reminder of how all of it can so easily be swept away. How one can go from a very comfortable-seeming life, to almost nothing to her name.

I’ve got about a billion cousins thanks to my grandparents’ seven-child family. With the exception of my dad only having me, every kid had at least two children, and 90% of those kids have had kids, too. The majority of my cousins are much older than me; most are old enough to be my parent. For a long time, that age gap prevented me from having close relationships with these relatives.  I stuck to the kids I knew at family gatherings, and that was that. Now older, I’m finding myself sorting out the intricacy of our family tree into branches and twigs I can actually name. Going back to my struggles with Facebook, one benefit of the beast has been getting to know my family a bit better. And one thing’s for sure; with the Paton surname comes a very specific package of humor. We are all very different, but heredity dealt each one of us the very same funny bone.

Anyhow… my point. When the wildfires begin multiplying out in Colorado, I heard that one was ravaging Colorado Springs. I have a cousin (and a second cousin, her daughter) who live out there, so I jumped on Facebook to see if they were okay. I’d heard that about 32.000 homes were evacuated, and figured the odds were in her favor. Well, I was wrong. The fire was headed right for her neighborhood, and she had a very short head start at getting the heck out of Dodge.

Thankfully, they got out just fine.

For shock value, here’s what they found when they were finally allowed to return home.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to see this where your home once stood. It puts a big knot in my belly. As humans, we are somehow drawn to horror. We are known to watch scary movies, rubberneck at car wrecks, and tune in to disastrous news coverage. I believe that we all have some level of fascination with our own mortality, and with the notion of the unthinkable. Yet that’s what it remains: The Unthinkable.

Until it happens. To a friend. To family. To me. To you.

I’m back in that van in Ethiopia, with my heart breaking because I’d give every last vitamin C drop on Earth to take that little girl’s desperation away. I see this post-inferno image and wish I knew what to do. I stop wanting anything, and start cherishing the crumbs on the floor and the teeny handprints on the windows. Instead of rolling my eyes at the thought of cleaning up after my toddlers again, I’m thinking  “At least I have a floor and windows to clean.” Seriously.

And while we can all say, they’re alive, they’re alright, and that’s what matters… it doesn’t take away the truth that everything else is gone. That matters, too. Again, I don’t know what it feels like, but I know that after the moments of cherishing life and health have passed, there’s a big ol’ pile of rubble and loss to deal with.

I wish I had a winning lottery ticket, (or else a time machine and a really, really powerful fire extinguisher) to help not only my family, but all their neighbors, too. I wish I had an in with Halls, and I could drop a helicopter load of “candy” (and maybe an actual piece of fruit or two) on those Ethiopian kids. But I don’t.

What I do have is my gratitude. And I share these sentiments in hopes to remind anyone else out there to bask in the blessings of today if you’ve got ’em. Because it could be a lot worse, and one day, it might actually BE a lot worse. What a shame to waste a perfectly good today on wishing for a better tomorrow. Try wishing that tomorrow is better for someone else who really, really needs it to be.

***Should you find this story close to your heart, you can send a donation made out to:

The Diane and Kitty Paton Fund

Mail to:
Workers’ Credit Union
PO Box 8207
Fitchburg, MA 01420.
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2 comments

  1. Kathy · · Reply

    Beautifully written, Killeen. It is far too easy to lose sight. Thank you for sharing this. I will use my wishes for better tomorrows for those who could use them.

    1. I’m sure you already do. 🙂

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