Commentary

Burst Bubbles, Broken Windows

I used to love the Andover Bubble, that professedly utopian microcosm in which everything is beautiful and the only suffering comes from essays, tests and college apps. This existence, however, does not align with the actual world. The Bubble casts a veil over our eyes that blinds us from reality. We’re so busy focusing on our perfect little lives that we neglect the world outside. I began noticing problems with the Andover Bubble when, last summer, I participated in the Niswarth service-learning trip to India. In the first days of the trip, the magnitude of poverty I saw was so overwhelming that I felt as if any hope of making this world a better place was gone. I was simply too insignificant. I had come to this city expecting to find problems that I could intellectualize, process and solve. However, I found the problem-solving methods I had learned at home inadequate when dealing with these issues. This wasn’t just another difficult math problem: I found myself outside of the Andover Bubble, staring directly at real, significant challenges. On the trip, we partnered with education-focused organizations in Mumbai which work in classrooms to develop relationships with students. We strived to create personal bonds, so we visited their homes (by the way, each house, about the size of a single apartment, was shared by families of four and five). We noticed that many of the families ate only every other day, yet they still tried to offer us their meals. After talking to them, we learned that those unable to join a program like the one we were working with never got an education. I had obviously known, as I assume most do, that there were people in this world who lived like this. Nevertheless, it never sank in until I met them personally, until they felt like family, until they called me “bhaiya”—big brother. I acknowledged their innocence and their warmth and knew there was no way I could ever justify my luxurious life at Andover while these poor children lived in such conditions. As time passed, however, my initial resolution waned. What three weeks before had enthralled and yet repulsed me, now had worn on me, as if somehow dulled. I had become comfortable sitting in a bus full of my Andover classmates, raised above the people and cars and destitution on the streets of India. As the bus pulled up to a red light, however, my initial passion was renewed. I saw the face of a man looking in at me, inches from the window, when some blur streaked across his face. I felt a sick, sinking feeling as I realized this man had just waved half of his arm, amputated at the elbow, across his face. He lifted his other arm up to our window—it too was nearly gone. As my eyes fled upwards, they found his, surrounded by dusty and wrinkled skin; he appeared dark, pleading and tired. One moment, one single, fleeting moment of looking into this man’s eyes was all I could manage before my head snapped away. A thousand conflicting emotions flooded into me in that moment, but thoughts evaded me. My mind seized up in denial and contradictions. Our bus pulled forward, away from this man and out of that moment. Just as he passed out of my view, I realized what I had just done, and I felt disgusted with myself. How could I have just looked away from this armless, pleading man? After all, he was another human being; he might have been any one of us. That man, by some misfortune, ended up where he was, but he could have been anyone: my father, my cousin, my brother, me. I just sat and stared into the distance and pondered what life would be like as that man. It wasn’t long before a second realization hit me. That man had once been a child, a child like the kids whom we had worked with for those past three weeks. No child could ever deserve to live like that man. And what if one day—I felt lightheaded, dizzy with horror, I couldn’t even finish the thought—what if one day, one of those kids from our class, the ones who felt like family, ended up like him? My initial reaction questioned how a man could end up in such a situation; it wasn’t until later that I wondered about how thousands of people could drive by him and allow it to continue. This man is like any of us; he is no less important because he lives on the street and because he has no home. We are lucky to have the Andover lifestyle. He deserves no less than us. The children deserve no less than us. Having returned to Andover, I see things differently than before. The veil has been lifted, and there’s no putting it back. I feel like I’m still in India. That man remains and helps me see beyond the veil into the reality that exists outside of our artificial bubble built from the wealth, self-justification and the voluntary ignorance of the “developed” world. We must realize that there is more to life than our essays and tests. Whether we decide to do something about the issues of the world or not is up to us; but at the very least, we must stop looking the other way. Jordan Boudreau is a three-year Upper from Salem, NH.

Oct 11, 2012