Sometimes, the news gets to be too much. In the past year alone, it has been filled with continued reports of wars gone wrong, peace treaties turned awry, and natural disasters destroying millions of lives. A few days after the earthquake in Pakistan, I heard a story that touched me profoundly—about a young Pakistani engineering student who was the only one to walk out of his university without a scratch when it collapsed. Imagine a scene on the television screen: a once-green campus where sunlight crossed over the arches of buildings, all demolished within seconds; and a young student who whose friends are all dead saying in a frank voice, “I’m going to be an engineer. We’ll just have to rebuild and start over.”
His hope, optimism, and personal courage were certainly inspiring; but it was his profound dignity that left me breathless. “I’m going to be an engineer.” To state that simple fact without blame, without fear or uncertainty in such a volatile situation, was an image that I not could forget easily, an image that I could not help but compare to my own.
Who am I, to be so lucky? I have a school, I have a family that is whole and intact, I have a beautiful house, and friends that are very much alive. I have a life that some people on this earth, the same earth that I live on, breathing the same air that I breathe, made by the same God as me, can only dream of having in paradise. Who am I to sit typing on this very laptop, warm, with my stomach full while there are entire families dying in Indonesia and Pakistan and all over the world for want of simple food and shelter and medical care, their children growing bitter with the thought that their brothers in humanity did not respond to their cries?
I haven’t yet earned this privileged life I’m leading—I believe this intensely, resolutely. I have a responsibility to speak for those who cannot speak, to fight for those who cannot fight. Taking this into account, I think I can say who I am. I am a person who is, granted, living a life that is merely a dream for most people, but at least I also know that this world is wrong and needs to be made right now, before it gets even worse. And I’m thankful to know this, as intimidating as it is, because without that knowledge and that drive, I’m nothing more than an over-sheltered freeloader, and my life would really mean nothing more than that.
Privilege was not given to me for no reason—I am a potentially powerful person who can prove to the world that Americans can care; prove to Americans that Americans can care. Even if this is not necessarily true, I can make it true, so that when I find the courage to break away from the routine American lifestyle, to go out into the world and start a revolution, I will have earned my right to the life I have been living. This I pray for; this I work for; this, I believe.
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