Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Not to Wear

One of my guilty pleasures is the show “What Not to Wear.” Watching people transformed simply because of a change in the clothes they wear is fascinating. Sometimes I wonder if a show about outward appearances is okay with me. And I have to say that, much to my surprise, it is. I do object to the budget given for buying clothing- $5000 seems like a lot of money to spend only on clothing. I’ve never had to purchase my entire wardrobe all at once, and couldn’t tell you how much I paid for all the clothing I own, but I’d guess I’ve spent less than $5000; maybe I’m just a bad guesser... That aside, the show, though it seems to be about the exterior, is about the inward transformation that results from the outward transformation.

Truly the way we dress is an extension of how we feel and want to present ourselves. When I am feeling down, I do one of two things: if I want to wallow in my unhappiness, I dress is my grubbiest clothes; alternately, if I want to change my mood, I put on clothes that make me look good and, thereby, feel good. My sister, who lived in Guatemala for 13 years, often wears huipils, traditional hand-woven Mayan blouses. This is one way she honors her time there and expresses solidarity with the people she met. After the SCNs (Sisters of Charity of Nazareth) began their work in India, they had discussions about how they should dress- would they wear the traditional clothing of their order, wearing habits, or would they dress in a way that would honor the culture in which they worked, wearing saris? They spent years discussing what to wear. When I think of women religious, I don’t generally imagine them having long discussions about clothes, but clothing was an important enough topic that the sisters’ conversation lasted years. I’ll let you do your own digging to see what they decided.

Today, I bought a few shirts for my time in Palestine (the second major leg of my journey). I was told in my Project Hope interview that I’ll be expected to dress modestly. In Palestine that means that my shirts must be loose, long, and have sleeves that go at least to my elbows. No low necklines. I’ll have to wear pants or long skirts… As I think about travelling, one of my big logistical questions is how to pack for so many months during which I’ll be in several different climates and cultures. Something culturally appropriate in India may fall soundly into the “What Not to Wear” category in Palestine. Hopefully, I’ll pack the right stuff so that I will be dressed respectfully wherever I go. Hopefully, through my clothing I will project my openness to immersion into a different life. Hopefully, no one will have to tell me that something I am wearing actually belongs on “What Not to Wear” for their culture.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


This morning as I was taking a shower, my mind turned to water...perhaps because it was streaming down on me or because I had sweated out so much in a pre-dawn 100 degree heat index workout...or because a water main broke last night, spilling over 40 million gallons of water. Forty million gallons of clean water...wasted. Of course, no one meant for the main to break, so maybe I should say lost instead of wasted.

Then I thought about one of my early conversations with the SCNs (Sisters of Charity of Nazareth) about volunteering in India. Chatra, the place I will be spending 3 months, sometimes has so little water that food cannot be prepared at the school. When I heard this, I asked if, given the possible water shortage, I'd have water to bathe. When I received the answer that there would be enough water to bathe and that it was mainly the school and food prep that would be affected by a water shortage, I felt, I'm not even sure how to put it into words. Petty. Selfish. How important is it if I bathe if there are kids not able to eat because there isn't enough water?

Here in the States, most of us never have to worry about access to clean water unless something goes wrong like a water main break. We turn a knob and out comes all the water we could ever want at whatever temperature we desire. Though I wasn't present to hear it, I heard that a friend talked about people like us as "faucet people." The magic faucet gives us water in abundance and we don't give a second thought to our use until the magic faucet stops working.

Meanwhile, in many other places in the world, getting water means walking, sometimes miles, to a stream or a well, filling a jug, and hauling it home. The water may or may not be clean. There are also those who are currently fleeing their homelands, who are walking to the nearest refugee camp, who have no shelter, no possessions, and certainly have no faucets and likely do not even have access to streams or any other source of water. I'll bet they'd like some of the 40 million gallons pouring out of our water main.

As I write this, my truth is this: I'm not sure what to do about this disparity in water access. Or maybe I do know and just don't want to face it. Instead of being a mindless faucet person, I need to be a thinking water conserver. I know I need to use less water, but after so long as a faucet person, it's hard to break my overconsumption habits. I know I need to support organizations that work to improve access to potable water (Edge Outreach at would be a good local project to support). I hope that when I am in India, I will become more mindful of the water I use there and that I can come home and live like I know how precious our water is.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I'm not sure when I first encountered the idea of detachment, but I remember I wasn't too keen on the notion. After all, we belong to a culture that is all about results. If the results are not what you hope for or expect, you have failed. This is what our culture says. So how could a person possibly think that acting a certain way or taking a certain action could be successful if the outcome is not the desired outcome? How could a person not worry about the results? This is what I used to wonder.

I have come to gain a little more perspective on the idea of detachment lately. Maybe it's because of my interest in social justice, the attainment of which is a slow process. I am pretty certain I will never live in a wholly just world. Some people would argue that because we ourselves will never see a just world, we shouldn't make the effort to change things. I disagree.

A couple years ago some students brought up how they thought the school should offer something like a shop class- technical hands-on type stuff. I told them that if they wanted to propose this to the administration, I'd be happy to help them formulate their arguments. In the discussion, one student made the point that, even if they were successful in convincing the school to offer such classes, they would not be beneficiaries of their work. So I asked if proposing class(es) was worth it to them if ultimately they wouldn't benefit. There was some dicussion about this. In the end, they took no action.

In my own life for a long while, I was feeling quite unsettled about a particular concern. Previously I had tried to take action and was wildly unsuccessful in achieving any sort of change. Recently I came to the realization that I needed to take action again. Given what had happened when I tried the first time, I was not excited about trying again. However, I knew in my heart that I could not not act. This time I at least knew already that in all likelihood I would be met with the same "failure" as before. However, I also knew that if I did not act, I would not be able to live with myself. I'd been living with the feeling that I had unfinished business for too long. So I did what I had to do.

To be honest, I don't know what the "outcome" of my actions were. Once I did what I needed to do, the situation was out of my hands...and I was OK with that. I am now much more cognizant of the fact that I can control no one's actions but my own. I can only take responsibility for what I do. If I act with integrity, regardless of how anyone reacts or responds, then I am doing what I need to do.

Really, it goes back to one of my favorite analogies: planting seeds. In my garden I can plant seeds. However, once those seeds are in the ground, I have little control over what happens. Sure, I can try to put them in fertile ground where they'll get plenty of light. I can water them. However, I can't control whether or not they sprout and grow. The same is true of my actions. I can try to plant seeds of truth, of justice, of peace, and of love in the world. My hope is that doing so will lead to a fruitful life and a fruitful world. Certainly in my life, it has.

However, I know that not all the seeds I try to plant will grow. I know that sometimes, even when I act in the way I know is right, it will seem as if I have not acted at all, as if I never even took the seeds out of their package. Looking around me after my recent actions, this is what I see: nothing has changed...except... I now feel as peace. After feeling unsettled for so long, I feel some relief. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I truly have done all I can. If nothing ever changes in the situation, I know it is not because of my inaction.

Perhaps this is what detachment is about: knowing that I am acting with integrity, even if in a big-picture sort-of-way, nothing changes. What is important is that change happens within. And for me, this time, it has.