11/21/2012 10:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Lottery Of Birth

I have long been fascinated (or, more honestly, flummoxed) 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 very, very difficult cards?

Yes, we make choices along the way that influence how well our cards play out, but clearly the deck seems hopelessly stacked against some people. Is each of us to gratefully accept our own lot in life, and dispassionately and unresponsively accept the lot (and struggles) of others?

For the past five years I have chosen to live in Rwanda, where I am privileged to observe and sometimes participate in exciting development and social changes, especially the empowerment of the poor. But let me be very clear: I am just an average coward for whom suffering and sacrifice have been very foreign concepts. And as much as I'd like to think of myself as a teacher in the work that I do, I am very much and always will remain a student. A recent life lesson focused on this topic of the lottery of birth.

I walked past a poor Rwandan man with severe congenital deformities crawling down a street in Kigali, with pads on his hands and knees and the topside (or was it the bottom) of something that might be called "feet," and then I walked into a luxury hotel and my eyes fell upon a telecast of Prince William's wedding ceremony. I am certain that there is great meaning in this juxtaposition, but I am not certain what it is. A fertile field for much reflection.

Africa is not the only place where we are confronted with such apparent inequities of fate. I still recall a day almost 20 years ago when I rolled up to a routine stop at a red light in Southern California with my friend, "Dr. Dave," riding shotgun next to me. David is a guy who has it all -- a former state champion wrestler with great health, great strength, a thriving professional practice, a beautiful and wonderful wife. As we stopped at that red light a morbidly obese woman stepped from the curb and worked her way across the boulevard. And she really worked. She waddled as she struggled in the face of a premature and abusively commanding "Don't Walk" sign. She appeared quite poor and weary. I thought it enough to resist all thoughts of judgment and restrict myself to existential thoughts of confusion about this "complicated" individual. Not David. I was convicted by his deep, audible groan, so filled with sincere compassion as he watched the woman struggle. His response made a profound, lasting impression upon me. He did not merely look at this woman; he truly saw her and empathized with her. Green light. Move on. But unmoved?

In Sunzu Village (Rwanda) where I have now built a home, two children suffer under the blazing equatorial sun. They are albinos. "Irakoze" (translation: "Thank God") and her younger brother, "Irumva" ("God Listens") live in a very poor family, and life is hard for them as their sensitive skin sizzles and blisters.

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

So, why have these children been dealt such a difficult lot in life? And what should this all mean to me?

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 what it means to be dealt a "good" or "bad" hand of cards, or what makes a life good or bad, easy or difficult. No matter how sensitive I might try to be, my assessment will, no doubt, be very presumptuous, prejudiced and erroneous. But my caution in assessing must not become a shallow excuse for disinterest and 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 joyously celebrated.

Such contemplation and confusion occupy my thoughts.

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

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