We’ve just returned from our honeymoon. My wife and I started off our married life together spending five days at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. For a couple of seminary students whose idea of a night on the town inherently involves coupons something of this nature was quite the treat and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect.
At check-in we were given purple wristbands and informed that, unbeknownst to us, we had purchased the “privileged package”. Then a bartender appeared and handed us complimentary margaritas. From the get-go being literally labeled as “privileged” in a third world country gave me a queasy conscience. When we entered our dinner buffet we tried to sit at one table but were quickly ushered into a different section marked “Privileged Guests Only”. At this point, my uneasiness gave way to cynicism; I saw no difference between the two areas, except our tablecloths were bleached white and the other ones a shade of pink. I thought about mentioning that I preferred pink tablecloths, just to see what would happen. Sensing I was up to something my wife kicked me under the table and I settled for eating my food in peace.
Throughout the trip I read a book about a young Jewish man who was harbored by a German family during the Holocaust; he hid in their windowless basement for two years. He could not walk upstairs for fear that his face in the window or the presence of a third shadow passing behind the curtain might raise suspicion among the neighbors. For two years he did this.
One night there was a bomb raid and the family had to leave him and go to a local bomb shelter. While the street was abandoned the young man snuck upstairs and glanced out the window. “It was a clear night,” he later recounted, “and the stars burned my eyes”. After two years of never seeing the light of day, he took one glance into the outside world and the stars shone so brightly that the mere sight of them pained his unaccustomed eyes.
Later that evening my wife and I took a walk up the beach to catch the sunset. As we walked she asked me if something was bothering me. I shrugged.
“I guess I feel guilty enjoying in such luxury in a third-world country.”
She nodded. “I understand that,” she said, “but tourism also a big industry here. Our business provides a lot of jobs for people in the area.” Although I’m a naturally cynical person my wife can’t find negativity on a roll of camera film. Marriage is a balancing act, I’m told.
“But doesn’t that feel like a cop-out?” I asked. “It seems like poor justification to exploit them.”
She frowned defensively. “You booked the trip.”
“And there’s homeless people down the road from us back home. Shouldn’t that bother us just as much?”
“Well, that’s different becau-”
“And I’ll bet there’s some homeless people living near those ski resorts you like to visit.”
“Now you’re just being ridiculous. Those resorts are surrounded by woods. It’s called camping.”
She gave me a pleading look before letting go of my hand and walking ahead of me. I felt a sting of remorse.
I wasn’t just being cynical and I didn’t know how to say that. I didn’t know how to say that I hoped someday to have the world so I could give it to her but at the same time I hoped I’d never have nothing but her because I know that would be enough and I’d never want to think otherwise. I wasn’t sure how to tell her how guilty I felt for having so much and somehow still getting her too. I wasn’t sure how to tell her that seeing her walk along the shoreline and smile in the fading Mexican sunlight was the only privilege I needed in life; take the white table cloths, the free margaritas and the fancy dinners; I’d eat Rahmen in a cardboard box and be a cynical, grumpy ol’ bastard with her forever.
I wasn’t sure how to tell her, in a strange way, that marrying her was like stepping out of a basement after two years, like looking into the outside world for the first time and that every moment she smiled it was like the stars set fire to my eyes. I wasn’t sure how to tell her that it hurt and felt amazing all at the same time, that it scared and enticed me in one beautiful moment.
I wasn’t quite sure. So instead I walked up to her, took her hand, kissed her on the forehead and whispered an apology. Then together we walked back to the hotel as the sunlight faded and the waves lapped up upon our toes.