Tuesday, August 3, 2010

To Have or Not to Have

"It's so hard to love; there's so much to hate – hanging onto hope when there is no hope to speak of, and the wounded skies above say it's much too late, so maybe we should all be Praying for Time."

The "Praying for time" I did on occasion in my youth was never in the context of that in the quote above, in fact, except for when I was behind on my homework, I didn't really pray for time much at all. I was far more apt to pray for things.

I somehow got the notion that I was poor in my younger years . . . . Growing up in a farm town, living in a mobile home, never going on vacation, not usually being able to make purchases at the mall, I always thought I was one of the have-nots. I was depressed when my friends would begin to leave for their summer travels. I would sulk because I couldn't have the latest pair of Guess jeans or K-Swiss shoes and would drool outside the window displays of Express and Gap, considering it a really good shopping day when I could buy something from the clearance rack. Life was "tough" for this teenager and I was going to do everything in my power to make sure my kids didn't "suffer" the same simple life I did.

So you can imagine my excitement when my husband came home last week with the news of being offered a new job – it meant many more opportunities for our family and no more worries about a company take-over at his soon to be former place of employment. We started talking about how we could now go see Wicked for our upcoming 10th wedding anniversary (barring it being sold out). We salivated over what posh restaurant we could eat at to celebrate this new endeavor. We even discussed using the extra money to travel more and perhaps finally remodel our bedroom . . . .

A few hours later reality sank in and we began to feel quite guilty and ashamed of our exuberance over our good fortune.

Jump back to two days before when I received an email from my pastor announcing that Lutheran Social Services, otherwise known as LSS, was interviewed for the July 25th episode of Dateline NBC, and there was a chance the interview would survive the chopping block and be included in the show. I set my DVR to record the Sunday episode and sat down that Monday night to watch it. Unfortunately LSS was not specifically mentioned, but I'm glad I tuned in anyway, because I needed to hear what Dateline had to say.

The episode, titled America Now: Friends and Neighbors, was about poverty in Appalachia Ohio, poverty very unlike my experience growing up . . . stories of families working hard long hours, yet not having enough money to eat, some not even having enough to put an ample roof over their heads:

One woman was working a fulltime nightshift at a bakery to support her two kids and husband (who has been unable to find work for over a year), only so that they could live in a camper without electricity or running water. They have to walk to the neighbor's mobile home to shower.

One man, an air force veteran, used to be a well-paid crane operator for a company that laid him and five thousand others off about 25 years ago. This was the first of 10 companies he worked for that went under. He has two children who live with him in a tumbling down house lent to him by a friend. It has no heat, so in the winter this man sleeps in short stints in his basement spends the rest of his night stoking the fire in the wood burner to keep his boys warm. He is so distraught over his situation that, thanks to supplemental security income, he thought he would be "worth more" to his children dead than alive.

According to businessinsider.com in an article they published in July of this year, "Half of America owns 2.5% of this country's wealth. The top 1% own a third of it." The New York Times also noted in an article they published in March of 2007 that ". . . the top 300,000 Americans collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980."

The vicious cycle of these statistics will likely continue – there's no money to go to school to get a better job, and no job providing the money for the next generation to get a better education . . . . The gap between the rich and the poor will grow wider, and perhaps soon there will be no middle ground left in sight.

So when I'm sitting on my comfortable couch watching my amazing flat-screen TV (with cable to boot) in my heated or air-conditioned home (weather respective), I feel both grateful and guilty – grateful to be blessed with all the luxuries in my life, and guilty that I have them while so many others truly suffer.

When I reflect on my childhood now, instead of seeing myself as poor, I see myself as incredibly ungrateful little midget. I had a roof over my head, food on the table, enough properly fitting clothes (brand name or not) to get me through a week or two before the laundry was done for me. I had a mom who managed to provide me with dance lessons, a flute to play in the band, and the required supplies and money to be a part of the majorette squad. I may not have had as much as my friends, but I had a lot, a hell of a lot more than I could ever comprehend.

After watching this episode of Dateline and taking some time to reflect on our lives, Jon and I decided that we were going to stop viewing "charity as a coat you wear twice a year" and stop "living hand to hand with legitimate excuses". The unwanted things in our shed waiting to be tagged for a garage sale are now in the process of being donated to those who need them, those who will probably appreciate the used items so much more than we ever did when we bought them new.

"This is the year of the guilty man. Your television takes a stand, and you find that what was over there is over here."

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