Friday, October 26, 2012

The Lottery of Birth

It was almost 20 years ago that I rolled up to a routine stop at a red traffic signal, unaware that such a lasting impression was in the making.

A fellow sojourner stepped off the curb and worked her way across the boulevard in front of us. She did not walk. She really worked. Indeed, she waddled, and less than halfway across the street she was commanded by a flashing red “Don’t Walk.” She was she. She was black. She was morbidly obese, with no discernible neck, wrists, or ankles. And she appeared to be quite poor and weary.

She was an arresting sight. We all have known a Rodney Dangerfield-type who might have exclaimed: “Hey! Where’s my harpoon?” Many, like me, might be awestruck, confused, and think the situation “complicated” and beyond comprehension,… a response that has little more depth than the harpoon response.

Dr. David Starr sat “shotgun” next to me. David “had it all.” Former State Champion wrestler. Great health. Great strength. A thriving professional practice. Adored by his patients. A painfully gorgeous (and wonderful) wife.  David was once described to an unacquainted person who was looking for him: “Don’t worry,... you’ll know him when you see him: He’s the guy right out of a Calvin Klein underwear ad." For a guy who “has it all,”  David also had (has) a surprisingly tender heart. He too was awestruck by the woman crossing the street, but he was not at all confused. He did not think this situation “complicated.” David groaned audibly, with sincere, deep compassion. We did not actually talk about what we saw, but the experience and David’s reaction (more telling than words) made a profound, lasting impression upon me.

I have long been fascinated (okay, confused) by the “lottery of birth.” How is it that some are simply born into so much, and seem to have life so easy, while others are dealt such a very, very difficult hand? I walk past a poor Rwandan man with severe congenital deformities crawling “on all fours” down a street in Kigali, with pads on his hands and knees and the topside (or is it the bottom) of something that might be called “feet,” as I walk into a luxury hotel and my eyes fall upon a telecast of Prince William’s wedding ceremony. I am certain that there is great meaning in this, but I am not certain what it is. A fertile field for much reflection.

Of course, there is nothing preferable about being “black” or “white,” unless you live on the equator and you are white,... really, really white, an albino, like little “Irakoze” (translation: “Thank God”), who lives in Sunzu Village, where I am building my home. Irakoze has a younger brother, “Irumva” (“God Listens”) who is also albino.  Their family is very poor, and life is hard for them as they fry each day in the equatorial sun.

But life is not as bad for little Irakoze and Irumva as it is for some albino children in other African countries (not Rwanda), who live in fear of being kidnapped and sacrificed to harvest their body parts for their “magical powers.” Go to:  , and

So why does God deal such difficult hands of cards? I certainly do not presume to know the mind of God. Moreover, I want to be very slow and reflective as I dare to assess “good and bad hands of cards;” good lives and bad lives; easy lives and difficult lives. My assessment will, no doubt, be very presumptuous, prejudiced, and erroneous. But my caution in assessing must not serve as shallow excuse for unresponsiveness, if I am indeed response-able. Maybe there is a plan and purpose to some having needs and others having the means to meet those needs,... perhaps a God-set stage for love and grace and compassion and charity to be acted out and celebrated, to everyone's great joy and to His glory.

My ever tender-hearted sister, Teresa, heard of little Irakoze and Irumva, and she was not confused, nor did she consider the matter complicated. She just responded.

Irakoze: Cool stylin' with a new 60 UPF Columbia hat and Oakley shades from Teresa
(Irumva was also decked out. Sorry, no photo.)