Friday, June 30, 2006


When I was sitting on the floor of the van with her I felt obliged to respond, but for a time the other girls fell absolutely quiet, reflecting on her words. After awhile I also gave up asking questions, because there was an enormous lump in my throat, although I don’t remember exactly what it was she was discoursing on when I became so overwhelmed. The totality of the picture she painted for us, together with the extraordinary light in that gaze that she occasionally fixed on one of us, before shifting her gaze calmly out the window, was too beautiful for my own words to represent here. There was one question, however, that I thought to ask her, which gained a response worth sharing. “Sister,” I asked, “is there a great difference between, say, the kind of poverty you saw in the East, in India, and what you see here?”

Her eyes widened at me, and she nodded. “Ohhhh,” she breathed. “It is not the same thing at all.” She said that that in India, material poverty is much, much greater than anything she’s seen in the West, and so she is never really impressed by what she sees here. Here, people suffer from poverty, but they do not die just from it; there they will die tomorrow if they do not get food.

But, she said, in the East, the soul is different. It is stronger, as she put it, and solid. Whether a person is Christian, or Hindu, or Muslim, or Buddhist, he is a solid Christian, a solid Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist. He will not lose faith because he is hungry, or because he is well-fed. And in India, if people are hungry, they are still happy. The poorest people on the streets, she said, are the happiest. If they have food today, they are happy; they do not wonder if they will have food tomorrow. Their joy, she insisted, is something unlike anything you see on any face in the West.

I think that I must spend most of my time in idle pursuits, and if I spent more time praying and doing good works I would be a much happier person.

But I think that there's a greater social dimension to it than that. It's not that it's impossible for anyone in the West to be faithful, but that living in an unfaithful society deprives you of interactions which would allow you to be at peace . Come to think of it, maybe it's just New York. But probably not, I think there's too much of it in what I see even in those from the western US.

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