PART TWO: A Call to Nurture: Reflections from Becky McDonald
Note: Becky’s reflections are a continuation of our Call to Nurture series. Part One, Creation Care and Human Trafficking, can be found here.
As a little American girl, I grew up as a foreigner living in the jungles of what was then East Pakistan. At the age of 14, a vicious genocide was conducted against the Bengali people in which they gained their independence and became Bangladesh. I remember my fierce loyalty to the victors, my community—the Bangladeshis. You would have thought it was my war. I watched my mom stay up all night sewing the flag of Bangladesh for the celebration that thousands attended as we raised the flag of a new nation. I had just studied American History and, to me, she was my very own Betsy Ross.
Growing up in Bangladesh, I witnessed the effects of many environmental disasters and natural calamities. I watched the combined impacts of poverty, deforestation, and the chronic catastrophe of the cyclones and their ensuing epidemics. I remember well the cholera epidemic that swept the nation after floods mingled open sewer systems with drinking water sources and turned the streets into rushing sewers. I remember the soccer field, filled with temporary tents as far as the eye could see. At 6 years old, I helped my parents lift furniture onto bricks to elevate it above the sewage laden waters that poured into our living room and home, several inches deep. The Atlanta Center for Disease Control roamed the hospital property that my father built, instructing us to burn the tents to ashes after the epidemic because that was the only way to ensure the disease’s destruction. In my child’s mind it seemed a waste of good tents, cots, and medical equipment. I was assured it was the only option.
As an adult, I returned and raised my own children in this land where daily they played with beggars in the morning and powerful elite at night. Put in charge of a guest house for travelers, I discovered a thousand-square-foot room full of old jars, dead lawn mowers, cardboard boxes, newspapers, and floor-to-ceiling piles of “junk”. We needed that room for a family-sized guest room. Absolutely nothing is ever trash; scrap metal from the lawn mower and old mayonnaise bottles are worth money in Bangladesh. By selling the junk, we made enough money to completely refinish the room.
Growing up in such a land profoundly affected me, showing me the power of recycling. Then, I left Bangladesh and came to America for college. The first time I went into a grocery store to buy aspirin, I left in shock. I opened the bottle and, after throwing away tons of paper (printed, molded, and costly), I found a dozen measly pills. They fit into a pillbox in my purse no bigger than a quarter. I had discovered a land of waste.
Living international and moving a family of six every two years, I was forced to collect very little. Then, in my 40s, I settled down to life in America and actually stayed in the same house for 10 years. When we moved again, I discovered that I had become just like the culture around me. I was appalled at the amount of stuff that I had collected. Once again, I was in shock…this time at myself.
I believe in balance. I abhor extremes. Somehow I had lost balance. If God himself knows when an inconsequential sparrow falls and cares that intimately for his creation, why do we not struggle well to nurture those resources entrusted to us? In the world of Women At Risk, International, I pondered our 88 programs in 31 countries addressing 14 different risks. Off the top of my head, I thought of 16 specific programs where we recycle, preserve, and nurture the environment around us. I am not talking about our mission to lift women and children to dignity. We are driven by that in all 88 programs and are slugging it out daily on the front lines of risk to lift humans to safety and dignity, whispering worth. Yet because we have limited resources we engage constantly in an effort to repurpose and recycle. This expresses itself in so many ways. Going solar to save on electric and propane bills and to less our dependence on firewood in lands that are reaching dangerous shortages is only one tiny example. Teaching Iraqi refugee women to make recycled baskets from Arabic newspapers is another.
But to be honest, nurturing the world around us strictly to save money is not the point here. We need to allow a new way of thinking, a simplicity of life, a commitment to nurturing the creation around us to sink down deep into our value system not just so we can save money and resources. We need to see it as stewardship of the beauty and creation around us. I’m not a member of the Sierra Club. I’m not advocating extremism in either direction. I’m simply saying it is time to live more simply, more contentedly, with a genuine sense of dogged commitment to constantly ask ourselves these questions: Do I really need it? If I purchase that item, What if for every new thing I bring into my life, I have to give away what it is replacing. Better yet, what if for everything I buy that’s not a consumable, I have to match its dollar worth in donation to my favorite charity in time, talent, or treasure? Will it just mean one more thing to care for? Is there a way to accomplish the same goal while consuming less? Can I find ways to creatively live in balance?
If your house burned to the ground tomorrow, would you cry over the loss of your possessions? Would I run into a burning house to grab anything other than my children? If so, maybe I have lost balance. At age 14, I watched my mother say goodbye to her wedding presents and family heirlooms in our home in Bangladesh. That night we evacuated women and children from the march of the oncoming army conducting genocide on everyone in their path. She willingly walked away with only her kiddos in two. Do not get too attached to possessions, even the sentimental ones. They are but a vapor. At the end of your life, you take nothing with you. Steve Jobs, the wealthy found of Apple, said this, “In the graveyard, the rich and the poor lie side by side.”
I am no different than any other American. I struggle with the unintended collection of stuff. I don’t enjoy shopping, but by Bengali standards, five families could survive off the junk in my garage, closets, fridge, and pantry. One of our children’s happiest memories is when we were house-hunting and lived for six months in a 300 square foot trailer where the toilet was falling through the floor. Every night in the tiny trailer we talked to each other from our pillows. It sounded like the Waltons as we drifted off to sleep saying, “’Night Natey Bob. ‘Night ‘night Dani-Dew. ‘Night Matty and Mark. ‘Night Momma. ‘Night Dad. I love you….” Today they are grown and still I find some of them snuggled together on the floor in the family room, sleeping after playing games until two or three in the morning at “McD epic family gatherings.” My grandbabies and their more sane spouses are tucked into the bedrooms, but some are sound asleep in close proximity.