Guilty About Feeling Guilty

GoodWillI felt guilty about feeling guilty. My mind raced through Hofstadter’s meta-genies and strange loops. How many dimensions of this could I realistically consider?

I groaned. It was happening. I was waxing philosophical again. That’s what always happens when I’m hungry. Or tired. Or, like right now, both.

I’ve fasted for personal reasons before, and for religious ones. The TDC subsumes both, and adds socioeconomic considerations to the mix. I knew this trifecta would be an interesting interplay.

Bagels yesterday. Ramen two days ago. Enthusiasm on both.

I cheated today. It’s only Wednesday. There, I said it. Three days in, and I felt lightheaded. Living on the top floor of a four-story building with no elevators usually wasn’t a problem for me. I’m healthy. I’m fit. Today, I had to stop to gather my strength before the final flight. Multiple people have told me I appear pale.

Maybe I’m justified. Maybe not. All I know is that my hallmate’s mother’s cooking has never tasted so good, so nutritious. Rarely have I ever been so grateful.

I am a cynical person. On the inside, I sneered at myself and my fellow participants this whole week. Four and a half days with limited food: what a sacrifice. What a change.

I don’t know whether I’ll do the TDC again. Certainly, I’ll support it. I’ll see it grow. I’ll probably even contribute financially. Regardless, I am glad to have done it, or at least to have attempted it.

In some ways, the TDC insults those it means to empower. It pushes down those it wishes to pull up. There is a point where (sorry to have stolen this thought from your “Inquiry versus Insult” blog, Dr. H) the TDC perpetuates the power relations it hopes to diminish.

Still, only by feeling how utterly incapable we are of feeling poverty can we appreciate what it might be like to live that way. Normal. Usual. It would be the life we would be used to, were we in that situation.

I experienced the same sentiment in Uganda. A 10 week homestay brought me very close to the family which opened its doors, arms, and hearts to me. Still, although they taught me the secrets of washing clothes by hand and shared the things they hold dear, I could only be content with realizing that I can never fully appreciate poverty. This both agitates me and calms me.

In the classic film “Good Will Hunting,” Ben Affleck tells genius Matt Damon, “You’re my best friend, so don’t take this the wrong way, but if you’re still living here in 20 years, comin’ over to my house to watch the Patriots play, workin’ construction, I’ll kill you.” (edited for language…a lot) Ben Affleck demands more from Matt Damon’s limitless mental resources, not for Damon’s sake, but for Affleck’s.

I still feel guilty sometimes. I still feel cynical. After the TDC, I’ve taken steps–small ones–toward being at peace with the sense of agitating calm at knowing that the poor are as bitter, as angry, as joyful, as prideful, as sincere, as despairing, as serene, as spiritual, and as fully alive as I could ever imagine myself to be.

Caleb Dagenhart

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Class of 2014

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