By: Eliza Upton
Sometimes I like to believe that this semester has aged me ten plus years. Some days I get into bed feeling like a ninety or thirty year old, but when I rest my head on the American flag neck pillow I bought at a gas station in Iowa because I wasn’t smart enough to bring a real pillow on the trip, I am reminded that I’m only eighteen. Though I may not be aging more rapidly than normal, I can firmly say that my critical eye is strengthening. As I talked about in one of our group debriefs this week, I’ve always considered myself a positive person. Often I find myself grazing over details in order to look at a situation as optimistically as possible. But as my exposure to harsher realities has widened I’ve found myself peering into the means of those details I so quickly used to brush off. During our service portion of Gap I have been challenged to ask questions, wonder why things are they way they are, and try to figure in my own impact into the grand scheme of things.
In St. Louis I found myself analyzing just about everything. One example occurred when we worked at Project Food Search, a local non-profit that provides meals and support for hungry people in St. Louis. We spent the afternoon putting together bagged meals for children to take home on the weekends, and when putting cans of green beans and mandarin oranges into plastic grocery bags, I easily criticized the nutritional content that these meals were actually providing for those hungry children and was frustrated by the environmental impact all those plastic bags would have. When I noticed all the criticisms I was making I was immediately embarrassed. Here was this incredible organization that worked hard to provide people with food and the green beans I was bagging, that would no doubt make some kid very happy, weren’t up to my privileged fresh fruit and vegetable standards.
It was after a few moments of embarrassment I started to rationalize. My desire for those kids to receive a substantial meal with fresh food was not a snobby one. It was just my critical eye coming into play to look at the big picture. But was it the right time and place to be analyzing and critiquing? In all of our conversations about asking questions and trying to look deeply, we never discussed the idea of sometimes shutting off the constant analysis. That concept has been one I struggled with all week in St. Louis. Are there moments when critique and the search for deeper meaning become inappropriate? The positive side of me want to say of course and keep believing that everything in the world can be beautiful, but the analytical side wants to say no and keep digging deeper into the problems we see. It has been hard to balance since sometimes one personality likes to take a stronger hold, but as I’ve learned from living with fourteen other people, compromise is key.