Niederweiler, Germany, July 4, 2009

As we were driving down the German autobahn today, zipping along at 150 kilometers per hour, watching the scenery gradually change, all I could think about was how incredibly fortunate I am.

I have my family, who were there in the car with me, plus one.  I will start a new job, a new challenge, in the fall, but still get to keep my favourite parts of my old job. My husband and I earn enough together to be able to indulge ourselves in all sorts of ways: this new netbook on which I’m typing, for example, or my iphone, eating out at restaurants, and lots of travel, including this vacation in Italy, and the trip to Burundi that’s in my future.

My parents in 1990

My parents in 1990

I started thinking back to some of the sources of that good fortune:

·         My parents’ mutual friend set them up on that first blind date.

·         My parents stressed education in bringing me up, and made sure I got a good one.

·         My parents were well educated themselves and could earn a good living, providing me with whatever I needed, and most of what I wanted as well.

·         The Peace Corps sent me to Mzuzu, Malawi, where Memisa happened to send Albert.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

But then I started thinking that I would have to go much further back to really get to all of the happenstances that led up to this moment:

·         Three of my grandparents left the Ukraine as children with their families in time to avoid being wiped out in pogroms.

·         The other grandparent was born in the US, but her parents left the old country (probably Lithuania) in time to avoid being wiped out in pogroms.

·         All of my grandparents, and therefore both my parents, lived in the US during World War II, thus avoiding the fate of so many Jews in Europe, and even avoiding the trauma experienced by survivors and their children.

·         None of my grandparents received any education past secondary school level, yet their emphasis on education had its effect on my parents.

How lucky can I be?

We’re going to Italy on vacation. We’re taking a relatively late-model car, which we can afford, and we can also afford the petrol, hotels, food, etc. for all five of us. We’re going for no good reason except to enjoy ourselves and see an interesting piece of the world. A few days before the others head back to Holland, I’ll be flying back by myself. Why? To catch a flight to Burundi to work on a volunteer project there.

Now here’s the irony: It’s volunteer work, but I’m doing it as much for me as for anyone else. I want the feeling of being of use that I had when I worked in Malawi. I want to teach people who don’t take that education for granted, like everyone here. Sure, I want to help the teachers I’ll be training, but why do I want to help them? Because I’ll feel good helping them!

So even volunteer work is self-indulgent! And I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to be doing it!

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