Wednesday, February 6, 2013

We Are Poor

A couple weeks ago, I was driving the kids home after spending the evening at a friend’s house.  Eden began commenting on all the cool toys her friends had at their house, which soon turned into, “Mama, why can’t we have a (insert toy that we don’t own)?” 

I tried all kinds of explainery – it’s more fun to play with new and different toys at a friend’s house; it wouldn’t be as much fun if we owned all of those toys too; you have cool and fun toys too. 

Then I started feeling angry.  It was January, for crying out loud.  We had barely finished opening the epic glut of new toys from Christmas, and it still wasn’t enough?

I gently reminded her of all her new toys.  I gracefully reminded her of the importance of having a grateful attitude.  I believe I actually said something like, “You should be grateful for the toys that you have.  If you don’t want them, we can give them away to kids who only have one or two toys.  I bet they’d be grateful to have more toys!!!”

Rather than feeling at all threatened, she calmly replied, “I am grateful.  But can I have just one more present?”    

Just one more…

She began asking about those kids who only have one or two toys.  She asked if they have toilets.  If they have beds.  If they have cars.  If they have keys.  If they have roads.  I tried to paint pictures for her of kids who live very differently than us, kids who sleep on a mat on the hard ground, kids who have sticks and rocks for toys, kids who hope to be able to go to sleep with a full belly and stay warm and dry at night but don’t always succeed. 

“But why, Mama?  Why don’t those kids have beds and cars and food and toys?” 

Why, indeed. 

There are a million ways to answer that question.  That night I chose to focus my answer on the reality that we don’t choose where and when we are born.  That she and I were born in a time and place that gives us easy access to a lot of things.  Things that make our lives easy but things that don’t necessarily make us happy.  And those kids living in poverty were born in a time and place that didn’t give them easy access to things.  That their lives are difficult in some ways but they might also be happy in some ways.  Because having things does not necessarily make people happy.

It’s easy to pity the poor, to regard them as pitiable.  To think of them only as bodies lacking…lacking food, clothing, warmth.  To forget the fullness of their humanity – that generosity, joy, creativity, love, even happiness can exist among the poor.  Applying our western equation of stuff = happiness can lead to this kind of conclusion. 

Mother Teresa describes the poor: “Our people, the poor people, are very great people.  They give us much more, much joy in accepting us and the little things that we do for them” (My Life For The Poor 51). 

Little things…yes, Mother Teresa did a great many little things.  And yet she says she received even more from those who, it would appear, had nothing to give. 

Who is really poor? 

“I find the poverty in the West much more difficult, much greater than the poverty I meet in India, in Ethiopia and in the Middle East, which is a material poverty…I picked up a woman from the streets of Calcutta, dying of hunger, [and] I had only to give her a plate of rice and I satisfied her hunger.  But the lonely and the unwanted and the homeless, the shut-ins who are spending their lives in such terrible loneliness, who are known by the number of their room and not by their name!  I think this is the greatest poverty that a human being cannot bear and accept and go through” (55). 

We in the West, in America, in Ohio, in Cuyahoga Falls, even in my neighborhood, are lonely, disconnected, indifferent…starving for meaningful relationships and unconditional acceptance and spiritual wholeness.  We feel our lack, and we fill it with stuff.  Just one more... 

Great wealth exists among the poor. 

Great poverty exists among the wealthy. 

No comments: