There comes a time in the life of a person where they decide that their existence is intimately bound up with all the other people and things on this planet. This is the time when a person becomes more self-aware; it’s the point where people decide that they cannot simply walk through the world without doing whatever good they can.
I have no idea when I reached that point.
The fact that I can’t remember troubles me; it leads me to believe that there was never a crystal-clear, life-altering moment that changed my thought – no Bodhi-tree explosions of nirvana – and led me down my current path. Then again, maybe for some, this point comes in fits and starts without a central event. Upon reflection I find that my attitude of responsibility towards the world developed over a period of a few years in college. I’ll give the pre-university “old me” some credit: he certainly cared about humanity’s continued, equitable existence but didn’t understand that regular people could make real change.
It’s been a long time since I walked onto the campus of Aurora University thinking that my ACT score and book collection made me something special. In the intervening years, I’ve found myself tied into two seemingly separate fields: international development and interfaith cooperation.
I saw a world riven by sectarian conflict. A place where religions are denigrated by the learned as out-of-date remnants of a past phase of human growth. A planet where holy books (or rather, holy men) command the faithful to kill in the name of. I decided that such things cannot be allowed to stand. As a person of faith myself, I know the great drive to do good that can come from one’s religious tradition. I promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation because I know that humans won’t ever stop being religious, and we’d sure as hell better get used to talking and working with each other soon.
I also saw a world where the rich (I’m one of them by dint of living in the United States) and the poor are separated not simply by an affluence gap, but by gaps of food, sanitation, education, and most importantly, hope. Every day, thousands of people die from the simplest diseases, and hundreds of millions struggle to survive by whatever means possible. Each year, Europe spends enough on ice cream to provide basic sanitation for every person on the earth. I decided that I could not live as I have lived while half of the world prayed in anguish. I work to balance the disparities in our world as best I can, and I hope that one day I will be referred to as a humanitarian by my peers.
The best thing about my “moment” of understanding my place in the world is that it’s an ongoing experiment. It’s not like I finished my undergraduate work and knew exactly what I had to do and how to do it – that has taken time and study (and lots and lots of student loans). My point is that like our planet and the people on it, my call to help people is continuously evolving and moving towards…something.
I’m undertaking my work with the Faiths Act Fellowship for three reasons:
1. It provides me a space in which to build bonds of multifaith understanding and action.
2. Eradicating malaria deaths is a hugely important issue in human rights and human development.
3. It is, simply, what I must do.
I make no apologies for veiled references to destiny and personal mission, but we know the feeling we get when what we are doing is all at once emotionally, spiritually, and on all other planes, just right.