‘Tis the $eason

As you know, I have lived in all sorts of places. Everywhere from Midwest USA with their plethora of fast-food restaurants to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia with its very hairy yaks. And in all of these places, I noticed something interesting. Not about them, but about me. My status as a person changed, depending on where I lived.

The concept of wealth and these changing lifestyles are not new to any of us. But I never considered, until now, the significance of this in my life. In the mid-west, my family and I were fine. You know – fine – not rich, not poor. Just fine. In Mongolia, we were the elite. Our apartments were the most beautiful. Going out to eat was a common occurrence. We could go to fancy resorts in Thailand or visit Beijing for the weekend. But that didn’t mean life was easy. Our white skin was a symbol, important because of what it meant for how fat our pockets were. Our groceries were stolen; my friend’s family had their apartment robbed. We were the envied, the “dream.”

When we moved to Seattle, Washington my family and I became poor. The cost of living was far out of our grasp and I tangibly felt the vast chasm I had fallen through. People like to say that when you’re poor you focus more on what’s important, like your family, because that’s all you have. But let’s be real, when people are poor they sometimes become so consumed with being able to feed their family that the important things continue to be ignored. Wealth is not simple. I continue to be astounded at how one can jump through social classes like hula hoops as one flies through time zones. But, I have realized that this is the nature of wealth. The Gold Rush spoke of “rivers flowing with gold,” but the reality is: a big enough wave will make the gold flow downstream – away from you.

In Amman, I have noticed again this relative concept of wealth. The majority of this country is very poor. They barely manage to survive with the money they do have. And when fuel prices rise like they did recently, the impact of that drastic change can be devastating. All this to explain that, when I see a Jordanian with an iPad, I stop and stare. Electronics are roughly 300% more expensive than in America. In America, seeing a person with an iPad wouldn’t mean much of anything to me. As a matter of fact, it’s a frequent occurrence. But seeing a Jordanian with one, shocks me into silence. The wealth of this Jordanian is something I will probably never be able to comprehend. And yet, here in Jordan, I am also one of the wealthy – me, a practically broke college student. I eat at their fast food restaurants which are considered for the wealthy. I go to one of their most expensive and prestigious universities. And yet, I will be returning to the States, a graduate of college with basically not even a penny to my name. Wealth is so relative.

As we head into the Christmas season, it’s almost impossible not to think about money. We are worried about having enough money to buy gifts for our loved ones. We make lists of all the gifts we hope to get. The season consumes and is consumed by money. I have noticed that it becomes increasingly easy to feel the pressure and stress this involves. We become upset about not getting the gift we want. We forget about enjoying the season in our rush to purchase all the gifts for friends and family. And now I apply my own lesson to myself – wealth is relative, it is temporary, it is changing. 

If we strip away the buffer of wealth that we find within our different social classes, what are we left with? Whatever the answer, this is what we should cling to this Christmas season. Even in America we see that a person’s social class can change almost overnight. With jobs being lost or medical tragedies striking, families can go from wealthy to poor in what may feel like a matter of moments. It is this that reminds us that there is so much more to life than money. And it is this that reminds us how we we are all similar in our own ways.  I constantly need to remind myself that I must guard my thinking in this area. Sometimes, I let myself get caught up in the stress of money. But, in the end, wealth will always be relative and it will always change. This Christmas season I am going to work hard to remember what is most important.

After all, “Some people are so poor, all they have is money.”

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