Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Maker Has Bent My Knees For Me

So last night at book club one of my friends said, "I read your blog.  What set you off last week?"

I couldn't remember at first, but she reminded me of my post "Who Are The Poor?"  "Oh," I said, "We had a one-time volunteer at Faith in Action who kept making snippy little asides.  Like, 'If they need help on their electric bill, how can they afford all those tattoos?'  When the person in question had gotten laid off two months ago.  It was driving me crazy."  And I did try to say something to the actual person--I'm not always passive-aggressive--but she wasn't hearing it.

A lot of us--a LOT--particularly those of us surrounded by the comforts and security of middle-class lives, with savings accounts, insurance, stable employment and decent health--get all judgy-pants about anyone needing help.  I think we convince ourselves that there is something fundamentally different between us and "those people" because we want to feel that we can never be put in that position of need. (Thanks C for the link.)  We are different.  We are okay.

A woman once sent Faith in Action. a remarkable thank-you note.  She said that she had always been the stable person in her family, the one who helped others, the one who had it all together.  "And now," she wrote, "my Maker has bent my knees for me."

Sometimes being driven to your knees is a gift.  It wasn't until I fell apart, years ago, that I realized I really could rely on others.  I had liked feeling self-sufficient and in control, except that it was also rigid, artificial, and exhausting.  How blessed to know that you are part of a community who will care for you.  And how blessed to be part of the caring.

Yep, everyone can find examples of the "undeserving" poor.  Except, I always want to know, what was their history?  What did they suffer growing up, what did they learn?  What help did they not get?  What might have made things different?  Once another middle-aged woman came in to FIA desperate because she was about to lose her home to foreclosure.  Her husband had recently died and it had taken all their savings to bury him.  This is not something we can usually help with--the amount of money was far too great--but in her specific case, because of details I won't go into, I thought there was probably another way around it.  I called her back to my computer, asked her a few more questions, did a few minutes' work on Google, and wrote down a phone number for her.  "You are automatically eligible for a six months' deferment on your mortgage," I told her.  By which point her husband's pension would be transferred over to her, and she would be fine.  "Call that number and tell them your husband died.  You might have to send in a death certificate, but they have to give you the deferment.  If they give you trouble come back here."

The woman broke into enormous heaving sobs.  She clutched the corner of my desk, bent over, gasping.  Then she said, "My father raped me every day from the time I was nine years old.  I would sit in school and all I could think of was at the end of the day I had to go back to that house, and I couldn't learn.  I just never could learn.  The teachers kept passing me because I was quiet.  I don't know how to do all that with computers, that type-type stuff.  I just never learned a thing."  And she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

As did the rest of us.  Good Lord, what a day.

Want to make a difference?  You can give a single mom Thanksgiving dinner here.