My family just arrived back from our annual Memorial Day weekend camping trip south of Ensenada, Mexico.
I always feel a little sheepish when my neighbors see me return with my gear and sunburn. No one has ever begrudged me my vacation, but I am aware that whether for economic or legal-status reasons, I am able to travel places to which they are not able to go.
Upon my return this time I was welcomed by my neighbor from the U.K. who was invited but could not join us. She greeted me with open arms, and we compared sunburns from the same coastline, different countries.
Another neighbor asked how my trip was, and I downplayed the fun we had and the beauty of the place we camped.
This neighbor has a lot of family in Mexico whom she probably will not see again. A few years back, when her father passed away, it was agonizing to watch her heart break from the separation.
When I share with her about my travels to Mexico, I am always aware of the freedom I have that she does not. And I am struck by my neighbors' graciousness. Both of these women rejoiced with me for my opportunity, despite their own restricted situations. They are genuine and kind, not withholding or resentful.
My neighbors are aware of our differences and, I imagine, feel the pain of that. Yet they choose to act with grace.
I understand that they have made other choices too. They have made choices that restrict their freedom.
One neighbor chose to work in a serving career that pays much less than her education and experience deserve. Other neighbors chose to come here without proper documentation, leaving them unable to move freely between the U.S. and Mexico.
This is where I get confused.
My neighbors are living the consequences of their choices, but I am not. I am free to travel back and forth between here and Mexico. Not because of a choice I made but simply because I was born at Hoag Hospital in the United States of America.
My privilege is not the consequence of my good judgment or wise dealing, but fate. Perhaps my neighbors are gracious because they recognize this same truth.
This is not a new truth for me, but one with which I still wrestle. I am beyond feeling guilty for my freedom and obvious privilege. I am able to enjoy a great vacation in a beautiful place. I am not suggesting that we unnecessarily restrict ourselves. However, that kind of solidarity may be called for at times.
So far there are two conclusions to which my gracious neighbors and own wrestling have led: First, live gratefully. When I recognize that I have not earned this life, I receive it as a gift from God with thanksgiving.
Second, work for justice. It is not right that those in serving professions are paid at the low end of professional scales. It is not fair that I can travel to Mexico without a visa but the reverse is not true.
Instead of being helplessly resigned to the way things are, we can be a part of bringing about change to the systems from which many of us benefit simply because of where we were born. That advantage carries a responsibility to work together that all can benefit and enjoy privileges that cannot be earned.
CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.