Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Day 3: On Gratitude, Entitlement, and Potholes

by Annie Pierpoint

Gratitude seems to have a different flavor in the Dominican Republic. For me, when I’m in the U.S., being grateful is about noticing things. If I’m being very intentional, throughout my day, I might pause to be grateful for a friend who does me a favor, a smiling barista, or a quiet moment. But to be frank, days like that are rare indeed. Usually my head’s down – I’m in “go” mode, stopping at the end of the day, but never pausing in the middle. It’s a spiritual discipline that I just can’t wrap my brain around yet.

But here, in the Dominican Republic, gratitude is less subtle. It’s more like gratitude constantly smacks you in the face (lovingly, of course). The first thing I learned when I got off the plane is that my supersized, American sense of entitlement is a liability. In general, back home, letting go of entitlement is a matter of spiritual growth; in the Dominican Republic, it’s a matter of survival.

Allow me to explain: imagine a pothole in the street. Not seeing it, you drive over it and there’s a loud KA-CHUNK. If you’re like me, a stream of cranky utterances follows: “Who leaves a pothole in the middle of the street? Seriously?!?! I mean, come on. Why doesn’t the city just FIX THE DARN THING??”

If I’m over-caffeinated, I may find a way to submit a formal complaint online – “Take that, pothole! Your days are numbered.” And a few weeks later when I drive over the smooth pavement I’ll think, “Ha ha, Pothole! I WIN AGAIN.”

Well, things don’t happen like that over here. There is very little infrastructure to speak of, and even less to walk on. The sidewalks are mazes of sinkholes, rough pavement, and tripping hazards – what we gringos might call “lawsuits waiting to happen.” But there are no lawyers who would take my case. No government agents eagerly awaiting my complaints. No one hurries over with a bucket of wet concrete and a shovel. Over here, my angst over the potholes simply disappears into the mist.

This is a silly comparison, but I use it to illustrate a point: I have entered spiritual boot camp. Here, my sense of entitlement collides with the reality of poverty (and potholes) and I MUST let go, and let God – there is no alternative. If I cling to my frustrations, resentments, and the absolute certainty that I alone have the power to feed all the children and fill all the potholes in the Dominican Republic, I WILL go mad. Here, I am challenged. I am proven wrong. I am shown insurmountable problems, and the only way I’ll stay sane is to believe two things: that God is my benevolent mentor, and I that am not Superwoman. I am a set of hands connected to ears that listen quietly for guidance. No more, no less.

I suspect that trusting God for sanity’s sake will lead to simply trusting God because God is marvelous. This is the spiritual weightlifting I came here to do, and though I am still a 98-pound weakling, I suspect I will emerge with a nice set of metaphysical biceps. And I intend to use them to fill the potholes in my heart so I can help others do the same. But stay tuned – God knows I will – and we’ll see where this bumpy road takes us.



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