by Mitch Powers
I was recently required in my contemporary lit class to read a book called They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, a book about the Lost Boys of Sudan, refugees of genocide who at ages as young as five were forced from their homes to fend for themselves without their parents. It is written by three boys who survived the conflict: Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak. Many people take from the book things like the strength of brotherhood or the distances people will go to find their family. I, however, found myself quite angry at them for having such a rough time.
When something goes wrong in my life, I like to think of it as being a much larger problem than it actually is. It is this self-empathy that gets me through the day. The thought that I am certainly the only one going through problems is oddly reassuring. They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky has added on a level of guilt to the personal-sympathy-train of my life. One of the biggest conflicts I face in my life is getting to McDonald’s minutes after they switch over to the lunch menu and I’m “forced” to get a McChicken when all I really want is a McGriddle. I had always assumed the level of frustration I felt in this situation was something unrivaled by any in the world, but then Benson, Alepho, and Benjamin had to tell me about how they went days without as much as some boiled grass soup to eat. This was a major bummer. Not because of their suffering, but rather because I was no longer able to feel pity for myself without an overwhelming sense of guilt about how trivial my first-world, non-genocidal problems were.
Another example of how this book is making it hard for me to feel bad for myself is when I want to be depressed. I know it is weird to think about actually wanting to be depressed, but I’m not talking about the depression where you feel nothing and are sad without any explainable reason. I’m talking about the “sit by the window on a rainy day staring dramatically into the distance while listening to Coldplay” type of depressed. The end of my senior year has been, or so I thought, fairly traumatic. I have always held the belief that I peaked in high school, so the thought of leaving seemed awful. Every time something ended, like my last sporting event or the last musical, I spent the following day in an apathetic coma. Then along comes a book to remind me that I have both my parents, I know where my sister is, I’m not being persecuted for any reason, and I don’t have to worry about landmines when I take walks. Thanks a lot.
In all seriousness, They Poured Fire has really opened my eyes to the suffering that goes on all around the world. One of the most disturbing parts, in my opinion, is how little we hear about it, and when we do, it is usually sugarcoated to the point that you can continue to live your life without giving it much of a second thought. “Don’t worry, Mitch, I’m sure they will tough it out,” is what I would find myself saying. I joke about how it impacts my “first world problems,” but the book has really encouraged me to want to do something to help end the suffering.