Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Many Days Until What, O'Henry?

I don't know if the kids' Christmas presents will get here or not--the charity was supposed to have wrapped up everything by the 15th and was supposed to have gotten back to people by now. That's the least of our concerns. We have to make choices with the money and can't pay all bills--necessities. And yet I'm wondering if we should spend some on Christmas presents--for them, not for us or anyone else. We need the wheelchair van, we need insurance and utilities. I don't like decisions like this. We have been given money--we *had* to spend it on necessities or I don't know what we would have done. No internet or phone means no job search (and there was an additional phone interview today, job email to answer throughout the day). I don't like this at all. My sister and her friends are sending a Target gift card--I'm hoping that comes through soon, though I've myself made one promise to one person I just have not been able to keep, not for lack of wanting to.

I hope I never forget this, what it's like for poor people. There's a difference in empathizing and really knowing that experience. I don't have the extended experience others have, of course. I don't like the myths that say that children do worse in poverty--maybe they have fewer experiences and chances, but I also think there can be a lot of family closeness that runs deep. I guess as a college student I saw so many studies about what goes wrong for people in poverty that we probably all lived in dread of living in poverty (oblivious of the fact that many of us were living in poverty then, those of us paying our own way and young newlyweds). But what about what goes wrong when there's wealth?

It's more complicated than that, I know--crime, drugs, lack of opportunities, certainly lack of housing and basic needs--these aren't minor issues. I just feel that as a society we've lost sight of the virtue in not having. I think we're in fear, phobia, and prejudice about being poor.

The thing is, I don't think anyone would believe us that we're poor--not many, anyway. Not just in poverty, but in crisis. People want to think that things are better than they are. One friend said she is surprised that I seem okay and to be "together"--I don't know. I do have the certainty that we'll be fine in the long term, that we have a support system that will catch us.

I am sure the charity will come through. But tenuousness. All is tenuous. I used to finish the shopping before Halloween!


yanub said...

There's nothing good about poverty that can't be had without poverty. What goodness there is to be had depends entirely on the people involved, which is the same in any situation. What is different is that poverty leaves so much less room for mistakes or crisis, and one error in judgment can make getting back on your feet impossible. And I don't even mean major errors of morals and law. Just whether to keep the old beater or get a newer car. Just whether to ignore that cough or go to the doctor. Those are decisions that people with plenty don't have to face, and they are decisions which daily bring down those who are poor and near-poor.

I guess if there is one thing poverty teaches that it is nigh unto impossible to learn when things are going your way, it is that we are all ultimately dependent on the goodwill of others. Lose that, and you have indeed lost everything.

I wonder about the attitude your friend exhibited, that she sees you as holding things together. I wonder if the way we let ourselves continue to ignore the persistence of poverty and injustice is by noting the coping skills of people in dire straits and ignoring the unnecessary difficulties they are in. Like, whites used to always go on about blacks being happy and carefree, and would use that as a justification for not changing things, saying that obviously black people were happy as they were. I'm not singling your friend out; it just occurred to me that maybe it is all part of a continuum that keeps problems from being resolved.

FridaWrites said...

I think you're right, yanub. It's horrible to make some of the decisions we do--and a more consistent, really difficult problem for other families. I guess what I was trying to express but didn't say well is that there seemed in college, maybe among some of the PTA moms now, that you're "bad" or stigmatized if you're poor, that you're just not as good as others, that your kids will be permanently f*ed up by it. They will be affected, certainly. Poverty itself is what's bad, though chasing after more and more material success can also be.

You're right that people may have a belief about "carefree" people. I also think some people are almost seeing, that they know there's a struggle but don't understand how bad it is. Part of that may be my fault for not educating more, saying more, though for privacy I don't give a lot of details. And then there's the problem with being perceived as a complainer for simply stating what is.

Thanks for your thoughts. You're right that saying poverty is okay can keep change from happening. I am horrified when people discuss removing people from food stamps. Someone who is on food stamps is in true difficulty.

Elizabeth McClung said...

I think you are one of the bravest people I know narrating your story, your insecurities, your worries, the picture of what it is really like with a rapid onset illness and the tenous aspect with charities, with going days and weeks having to make choices where you know X might be paid but Y and Z won't until.....who knows and what are you going to tell them. I agree, how can they remove anyone from food stamps particularly when it seems to take so long to get the system going (boy if the charity system ever got the efficency of the people who we owe money TO, like credit cards, things would be there in an instant but no, I mean, I signed up for a volunteer three years ago and they are just now sending me a letter to let me know they are available to take me to one medical appointment a month - it makes me want to weep - if it wasn't for Linda....sigh. I feel for you and wish there was some wand I could wave.

Love Elizabeth

FridaWrites said...

Thank you, Elizabeth, dear--I feel a little strange for writing it so that is good encouragement. I do want a record of it, memories of it for writing more about it later. It can be very difficult to get volunteers sometimes even when people are dependent on a service. Like Meals on Wheels for seniors here--I'd drive if I could but braking in stop-and-go traffic leaves me bedridden; I have to keep drives to an hour here.