When I was in Panama six weeks ago, I found myself in a bad place. I was depressed and isolated. There was no reason for this feeling really — my way was being paid by a blogging partnership, and I was practicing my Spanish. I was caught up in my own head, feeling depressed in a situation where I knew I needn’t.
As I was walking around one of the poorer districts of Bocas Del Toro, feeling sorry for myself, I had a stark realization: I felt no drive to help these people.
Bocas is a place of contrasts: hovels and broken roads alongside million-dollar homes for wealthy expats. Privilege alongside poverty. And no matter how poorly I was feeling, I knew I fell firmly on the privileged side of that divide.
I thought of my sister, Christina, who has dedicated her life to helping the less fortunate. Once you have seen true inequality with your own eyes, “I don’t see how you could want to do anything else,” but try and alleviate it, she had once told me.
Here I was, in the middle of such inequality, and it couldn’t touch me.
Which brings us to “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Tracy Kidder. Christina handed it to me recently, with the instructions: “You should really read it. If only to understand your dear sister a little better.”