Wil Wheaton sometimes complains on twitter about something like poor service in a restaurant, then follows it with the hashtag “#firstworldproblems”. His way of reminding himself that we still have it easy, even if our waiter sucks.
Then I saw a photo gallery on cbsnews.com and was reminded that there are pockets of the third world right here in the United States. The photo gallery is titled “The Faces of Addiction” and features photographs taken of homeless in the Bronx. Some are prostitutes and ex-cons, but all are addicts of some kind. Reading their stories about how they came to be where the photographer found them was overwhelming. So many of them never had a chance, their lives derailed in their pre-teens by addicted and/or abusive relatives or neighbors. Some appeared to make it through their childhoods intact, but a series of unfortunate events led them down the path lined with empty bottles and used needles.
I was struck by the sheer weight of their losses. I couldn’t imagine, if I were in their shoes (if they had any), pulling myself out of the pit they’ve dug for themselves. And, like in the impoverished third world, so many of them exist, not just day to day, but hour to hour. Hooking their way to their next fix and maybe a place to sleep for the night. I don’t recall reading a single caption that mentioned their hunt for food, which is surely a low priority to them compared to their addiction. A trip to the emergency room for them, while free in terms of cash paid, ends up costing them everything they own, their bedding, clothes, and various collected items picked up by the city and tossed away.
And as I scrolled through the pictures, the thumbnails from other galleries appeared below the slideshow. A thumbnail of the little girl who was run to death. A photo of the Ohio school shooter. And Brad and Angie. I winced each time my field of vision drifted to include the last thumbnail. A) I can’t stand either of them and B) who really gives a flip how they looked on the red carpet or if she struck that jackass pose a million times. I’m not saying we should be serious all the time and not engage in escapism and fantasy, but the contrast between homeless addicts and cheaters paid millions to play dress up was jarring to me.
Yes, we have it pretty good here in the first world, but we can’t take it for granted that everyone has it as good as we do. The next time I complain to my husband about all the clutter we have around the house, I’ll remind myself at least I don’t have so few possessions that they can all fit in a shopping cart, and at least I have a home to clutter up.