Wednesday, August 03, 2005

In which I wonder about priorities

I've been reading Mountains Beyond Mountains, about a doctor from the US working in Haiti to revamp healthcare for the poor there. The man is ridiculously inspiring - probably every highschooler who dreams of going into social justice work wants to found their own program and influence policymaking and win the adoration of whatever group they're serving. Later we realize that a lot of boring, unglamorous work is needed to keep any kind of program running and that this is what we'll probably do a lot of. But this man has actually done it - singlehandedly put so much in motion that has been really useful.

Of course, the natural response while reading about this kind of thing is to wonder what one is doing with one's life that's so great compared to fighting multidrug-resistant TB. I'm at least in the position of doing unglamorous work at an organization that does improve and sometimes save people's lives, so I don't feel as bad as I would if I were still at the posh suburban daycare. The book does make me question the rightness of doing useful work in the US that would undoubtedly be more useful somewhere else, though.

It irks me that Dr. Paul Farmer can have a wife and daughter stowed away in Paris while he trots from Haiti to Peru to Siberia, but that it's impossible to imagine some sort of Dr. Paula Farmer doing the same with a husband and child. The only reasons I want to live in the US when I grow up are so I can see my family regularly and so my kids won't grow up with dirty water and one-room schools and tapeworms. But if I do the whole leaving house and brothers and sisters and father and mother and fields thing, none of that will be a problem. (It doesn't say anything about spouses or kids, but presumably the the apostles weren't supposed to have those.) So maybe after I do Peace Corps I'll just stay in Venezuela or whereever and see where life takes me from there. I know you're supposed to be sure you don't burn out and become useless to everyone, but hopefully by then I'll be able to tell the difference between what I really need and what I only think I need. I'm pretty sure some sort of family is on the first list, but I could be wrong.

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