For weeks before I came home from India, I braced myself for a tidal wave of culture shock to come crashing over me and leave me in a soggy, mucky mess. The strange thing was, it never hit. Sure, I was a little dazed when I walked into Walmart and stared down aisle after aisle of products that it didn’t seem anybody really needed, but I didn’t melt into tears or get angry and race out of the store. In some ways this absence of obvious grief has been hard.
It took me several weeks to realize that my experience with culture shock was a much more subtle affair. It creeps up on me slowly, softly, in a way that I’m not sure it’s there. I can’t put my finger on the discomfort, I only know that something is not right. Instead of tidal waves I have the gently rolling surf of the seaside. I stand on the shore as the water laps around my feet. It’s easy to withstand a wave, and then another one. But the tide rises, slowly but surely. All of a sudden I look down and wonder where all the water has come from. It’s harder to stand straight as wave after wave rushes in, first around my ankles, then around my knees. It’s easier to lose my balance.
I’ve been babysitting my siblings this week while my parents are off on a much-needed vacation. I love my siblings, and I don’t consider it much of a burden to watch them for the week. I volunteered. But tonight, I’m stumbling for footing as I stare out to the sea. All week I’ve listened to them grumble and whine over food. I’ve watched bits and pieces go to waste here and there, seen them turn up their noses to four offered choices of leftovers for lunch. I’ve gritted my teeth against their little, self-entitled hearts.
It’s not something so big. My siblings are good kids. They have strong values compared to others of their peers. I know they don’t purpose to be selfish and demanding. But their flesh is still strong within them, and they know nothing other than the world of Walmart super stores and refridgerators full of food. But I am haunted by the dear face of an Indian grandmother who lowered herself to ask for two dollars to buy rice to feed her family for the week. Her son hadn’t been able to find work for over a month. I see the faces of my tution students who open their hands to accept whatever snacks I bring, their cries of “thank you teacher” echoing in my ears. I remember a whole village of people that thought it a treat when we brought them eggs or milk or tea.
I left the dinner table in tears tonight. I’m curled up in the dark in my parent’s bedroom right now, finally giving in to tears that may have been kept at bay for a little too long. Abba, teach me what to do. I don’t want to walk in judgment. I don’t want to be angry. But I also don’t know how to navigate my heart between such polarized worlds. I don’t always know how to maintain my joy in the midst of a culture that splays their sense of self-entitlement across their faces, their wardrobes, their pantries, their houses, and their cars. And as I write this I realize it’s not that I can’t live with the glut; I just can’t live without gratitude. Somewhere in the midst of all this stuff, we need to realize that it’s just stuff. If it disappears, the world won’t come crashing down.
So help me, Abba. Show me what to do with the pain. Help me to be vulnerable in a way that invites others to consider your goodness, rather than pushing them away in my frustration.