Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Poverty, Privilege & Perspective
On a recent visit to a local meal site, I had a striking realization. I was attending the community lunch in order to gain a better understanding of a specific population; their needs, the effectiveness of the meal site and possibly even personal accounts or experiences with poverty. I walked away from that experience with more than I had expected to; not only did I acquire a deeper understanding for the targeted population, but, more importantly, I came to some poignant realizations about the population I inhabit.
I make conscious, intentional decisions to live in every moment of my life. I do this because I want to absorb every ounce of the love that I have surrounded myself with. I don’t want to regret. Although I strive to practice gratitude for everything, there are various things I do take for granted. These things became glaringly apparent that day. Being warm, having enough food, having a house, having the means to house, clothe and feed my children; these are things that I am privileged to have. They are also things that should not be considered a privilege. They are basic human rights. I am appalled that our society allows for the suffering of its people and I am further horrified by the notion that this suffering is perpetuated by a belief held by society that poverty and its resulting affliction is the result of some moral deficiency. While the meal site is a wonderful program, it should not be a necessary one.
I spoke to a man who was bundled in layer after layer of clothing, and seemed chilled to the bone even though the room we were in was warm. He was homeless. He used to sleep in a local park until people destroyed his only property; ripped his make-shift tent and stole or destroyed his personal belongings. Now he walks around all day and is lucky if he has a place to “crash” at night. Recently, he has been sleeping in a friend’s trailer that has no windows and is just as cold inside as it is outside, “but at least it’s dry,” he said. His clothing was filthy and torn, and his face and hands were dirty. He expressed the difficulty he experienced finding employment and I wondered how much of that had to do with his appearance.
There were about thirty other people at the meal site while I was there. Some were families with small children and others seemed to have come alone, but certainly didn’t remain alone for long. This place was inspiring in that it was more welcoming and social than any restaurant I’ve ever been to (except maybe the diner). Most people seemed to know one another and greeted each other enthusiastically. It was awkward for me to just plunk down at a table full of strangers, but I was welcomed and I enjoyed it. Conversation flowed and throughout the meal I forgot why I was there. I had expected to take mental notes the entire time in order to document observations, but instead found myself enjoying the conversation and the easy-going atmosphere.
The food was placed out on three long tables and was served by volunteers. They enthusiastically scooped out generous portions of whatever you chose and you were encouraged to come back for more. They offered a wide variety of food, plus coffee and ice cream
This was one of the most memorable meals of my life, not because of the food, but because of the people. This was my first experience with a meal site and it left me with a feeling that I can’t quite describe and I can’t quite shake. When I tuck my children into their warm beds, I think about the little one’s I saw that day and wonder if they are comfortable, warm and safe. When I take a warm shower and dress in clean clothes I think about the man who was homeless and unemployed. I think about these people frequently. Not in an unhealthy, I’m-not-cut-out-for-this-work way, but in a healthy more aware way. Awareness is one of the missing pieces in many programs aimed at reducing poverty or helping those who are experiencing it. I went from thinking about poverty statistically to sitting down and eating lunch in its actuality. Poverty is more than numbers or a problem that needs a quick solution. Poverty has many faces…and they are all beautiful and human and tragically suffering.
Having a home should not be a privilege!
Being warm should not be a privilege!
Having an adequate amount of food and knowing when your next meal will be should not be a privilege!
Being treated with dignity and respect is a human right…