From time to time a thought strikes me, the fact that I am so lucky sitting on my bed, sharing my thoughts, with absolutely no tension in my mind as of now. A usual day starts when I wake up and exercise a bit, maybe read a little, after which I’ll get ready to go to office, have a good breakfast, do my work for another 8-10 hours while sitting in a comfortable place, come back, have dinner and sleep.
But when in the morning I go for exercise, there are people who – after all kinds of advancement I see around me – are getting in line to get a bucketful of water from the morning water supply. They make multiple rounds from their homes to the municipal water tank which is almost a kilometer away. They cross the same park where I am exercising, and when I look I them, I consider how lucky I am. While their morning routine can be considered as some sort of exercise, the hours following it aren’t as good as what I have. Most probably they’ll have a half filled or empty stomach when they go for work, they’ll toil in the afternoon sun, have an unsatisfying meal (to me atleast, but anything satisfies when one’s hungry), come back home. They don’t get paid country’s average salary, and still I think they do a lot of country’s total physical work.
A few months ago a person asked me the same old “what do you do” question. I replied that I am in IT. His reply “Then you don’t do any laborious work” infuriated me at the time, but in retrospect it is somewhat correct. Mental strain isn’t as bad as one that’s physical, and at times it’s only boredom requiring a change of activity. But still when this thought isn’t in my mind, I consider my work to be very “laborious”, and very meaningful, requiring ample amounts of mental energies.
I guess that is the same with almost everyone. Our work gives us identity and meaning in life, and while those are two independent notions, we kind of confuse the two. Our work defines the life we have, and our life is defined by the work we do. We go to work for more than the payroll-required 8 hours, come back home and discuss it, sleep about it, dream about it; outside of work we meet people who do similar kinds of work – I don’t find it odd that I meet IT guys wherever I go, the doctors and lawyers are exceptions, authors are exotic, fashion designers are once in a decade (since I’ve only met two till now).
But that only seems odd when I think about it, just like the people running around for water seem odd only when I think about them. Outside of park they are strangers to me, every day I see them, have similar thoughts – which will eventually cease to be once I’ve seen them enough times. But do I really want that to happen? Of course, no.
David Foster Wallace’s “This is Water” is one of the best thought provoking article I’ve read. It’s starts with the fact that how water feels so casual and mundane to fishes, (if they could think) they lose touch about what is in excess, the same way we humans lose touch what’s in excess around us. Instead of being a social and friendly, we turn aloof and cold, focused on our own thoughts and forgetting the fact that they too have similar thoughts, anxieties, emotions, and especially a self-centered life where they want to be treated the way I want to be treated.
Does he want to us to be an agent of change, go out in the world trying to change it? Nope. And in our day to day life that does becomes overwhelming, and sometimes futile. But what we can do is to be a bit more considerate to people around us; aware of the water that surrounds us.
While this sounds so negative, seeing those people in the park makes me feel lucky about the life that I have. The probability that I am alive as a human is miniscule on the grand scale of time and universe, and the kind of comfortable life that I (or any of my family members and friends) have is again improbable to the point of being impossible. And this fact is what I believe keeps me a bit more considerate about those who aren’t as lucky as me. I haven’t become an agent of change, nor I think I’ll be in the foreseeable future, but the fact that I’m aware of the water, will keep me satisfied for a long, long time.