Saturday, October 6, 2012

Urban American Poverty


We can talk about going here or going there and it's true, we need to go. We need to go to actual places with real zip codes. We need to cross the threshold then the street and stand in the middle of somewhere entirely different than where we sit right now.

But places don't need love or hope or a box of granola bars. People do.

One of the places we have found ourselves going is straight into the heart of Midwestern Urban America poverty. It's not the kind with distended tummies and unclean drinking water. It's the kind with black market food stamps and liters of flat drugstore cola. They live life differently than I do. They talk differently, think differently, dress differently, smell differently. It has nothing to do with race. It has only to do with all they've ever known; crippling poverty of money, of resources, of hope. There's a fundamental belief that this is it. It won't ever get better, it can't. So don't bother thinking it might and don't be stupid enough to waste your time trying.

Two years ago a boy came along and he seemed like an isolated thing in our life. We bought him work boots and sent him home with Tupperware bowls of soup. We helped him write out a budget and the most important line item was his smokes.

It was all jacked up. But he was young and it was all he had ever known. It didn't seem quite like the end of the world.

The chain reacted and now there are more. They're almost everywhere and they live in a way that I used to judge. It seemed so dang simple - get a job already.

I thought I had their solution without knowing one single thing about them or their culture or the issues they face. What embarrasses me even more is that I didn't see that as a problem. It never mattered enough to dig deeper, so I didn't bother picking up the shovel.

Now we're here and they're a real part of our life. We see them several times a week, talk to them every day. I'm learning as I go and I'm sure I'll have plenty to share in the coming days (contain your zeal) but here's the main thing for today: I never thought I could go there. I assumed they wouldn't want me. I didn't know how I'd ever act around them and I knew I didn't speak their language. I worried about what they would think of me. I was scared to death that they would see me as someone coming to fix them or point out their badness.

What I never considered was that I would start to love them. And maybe, they would start to kinda love me back a little, in their own strange way.

Love has a way of blending people. It stirs us together. It makes us notice each other's awesomeness, and suddenly, she makes me laugh without warning and she sends me a text that has me tearing up over the way she frets about me.

Some nights, I want to be unmixed. Some days, I think they're crazy and they might thing I'm mean.

It's those days when I know for sure that it's going to be alright.

I know that now, we're family.