Americans tend to live in their own bubble and not venture too far out of it. Our concept of "family" is typically very narrow, consisting mostly of what is termed "the nuclear family" of mom, pop, kids, and maybe grandparents or grandchildren. Everyone else is a distant relative, living in their own bubble and, while we may be interested in receiving a card from them at Christmas, their lives are irrelevant to us, especially if they are in a different socio-economic bubble.
Pope Francis challenges us to pop that bubble and embrace the human race of which we are a part but the majority of which we keep at a distance, based largely on the artificial pretext that they are not "one of us," not related to us, "foreigners" and, in the extreme cases, an "enemy." When fellow Americans are thought of in this way, it is no wonder there is such animosity against the refugees who come to this country trying to escape death and torture in their own country, or the simple migrant seeking food and housing for a hungry family.
If we stay in our bubbles, ignorant of the actual condition of the needy, we can invent whatever fanciful opinion we would like to have about them without letting the facts get in the way. There is a strong tendency to blame the poor for their own condition and to demonize millions of people, based upon the unethical actions of a few, when, in fact, most of the poor are grandma, grandpa, the disabled, and "the working poor." Less than 1% of the poor population are criminals 'working the system,' yet the rest of us are tarred with that same old, tired, brush. The worst lie of all is that "the government" supplies all our needs.
I used to know a wealthy woman who had inherited her money and never had to work to survive. She was under the impression that "the government" had to pay my moving costs when I was stranded in an apartment at the top of stairs I could no longer climb. The smaller the bubble, the more outlandish the ideas.
As a senior, disabled person in America, I receive Social Security and a small discount on my rent from the City of Albuquerque, and that is IT. I am expected to pay for medical and prescription insurance, dental appointments, eyeglasses, orthopedic shoes, service dog training, adaptations to my apartment to address physical needs, a scooter to address mobility issues, the mechanism that fits on the back of the car for the scooter, a car that can handle the weight of that extra equipment, and special modifications to the steering column so that I can drive with my hands, rather than my feet. Being disabled is extremely expensive. Out of all those needs, I can only manage to pay the medical insurance and prescriptions. This leaves me stranded, except for very short drives to local stores for a quick pick-up of essential needs.
As it happens, I have grown into the monastic vocation of a hermit, and I have become used to the poverty to which one would voluntarily commit. In my case, it is a concomitant condition with my disabilities. As such, however, I become the perfect witness to the typical lot of the American senior struggling to live on Social Security alone, and I can speak with authority born of experience in addition to the research that I do on the topic of American economics and the poor. My poverty is a blessing from God and an aid to my vocation, and I am grateful for it.
Many people around the world have it much worse than I do. At least I have food and shelter and clothing. I am not among "the poorest of the poor," but I was getting close to having to go barefoot. Let me explain:
I was born with oddly shaped feet, which have only grown more odd with time. There isn't a single manufacturer of women's shoes that make any shoe in my width. There are a few men's shoes that are made in my width but do not fit my narrow heels and are, therefore, dangerous to wear, since the heels flop around like crazy and trip me up, what to speak of being downright ugly, especially on a woman who wears only dresses and skirts. I might as well wear clown shoes.
I am told by every specialty shoe store that shoes must be custom made for me and that these will cost between $500 and $1,000 for each pair. Even the plastic shoes made by Crocs will no longer fit me, since that manufacturer has narrowed their footbed and hardened the material they use to produce their shoes. My old Crocs have worn through so that there is but a fraction of an inch of rubber between me and the road. I can feel the gravel poking into my skin when I walk the dog. Already I have slipped and fallen on the wet cement in the garage because of the slick, worn soles.
Like many senior American women, I have are no immediate relatives in my life, or at least in the same town. My only son died a couple years ago. I have an aunt and numerous cousins, but they are all in another bubble. A wealthy relative tells me how much she loves me and that she hopes I get my needs met. This relative speaks disparagingly about other poor relations. I know where I stand.
I have a wonderful, faith-filled and faithful Catholic friend who has taken me under her wing and has been helping me get some of my needs me. Lately, she has been tirelessly pursuing a solution for the shoes, hoping that my research, to date, had missed something.
Getting up to speed on the resources (or, rather, the lack thereof) has been frustrating for her, I imagine, and I thank God for every day she hangs in there with me, enduring the disappointments with me. She lives her faith, no matter how inconvenient and frustrating it is. Walking into the bubble of the poor and the disabled can be a depressing venture for anyone. It has taken me 12 years to slowly accustom myself to it, since I had been a lower middle class working woman most of my adult life and had not had to struggle to pay rent and food costs since my late teens.
Recently, I received one of those catalogs that come with their own pay-as-you-go plan, like a credit card, but it had a Birkenstock clog featured. It was $149.00 - including shipping and handling fees, and I ordered it. The shoe almost fits me and, after getting them professionally stretched by a local shoe salesman, I am able to walk without as much pain. The shoes flop about on my feet a bit, but if I wear some thick socks, will be better.
I can't get any shoes that actually fit me because of the expense, but I am grateful to have shoes that don't HURT me, at the very least.
Medicare does not pay for orthopedic shoes, except for diabetics. I do not have diabetes.
Mother Teresa did not bother to get her needs met when it came to her feet. I've written about this before. She simply picked the most pathetic and run-down pair of sandals from the donation box and wore those. If her feet were not deformed before this process, they were certainly deformed after wearing this footwear for so many years. I don't understand how she endured the pain! In any case, I can't afford to follow her example, since I am barely able to walk as it is.
Sometimes I feel like a bottomless pit. Once one issue is addressed, another pops up to take its place. If I did not have the assurances of my faith and the hope of heaven before me, I can't imagine how I would keep up my spirits. Particularly helpful are the examples of the saints who lived among the poor, such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. For those needs that I cannot get met, I can do as she did and turn to embrace them as a means to salvation. I have no doubt she did a lot less complaining than I do, if she complained at all. That's why she is a saint and I am not.
These experiences of mine have given me a deeper compassion for the problems of the poor in the world. The thing that tugs on my heartstrings the most is the degrading attitudes about the poor that I see all around me. It isn't enough that the poor have to struggle to get their needs met, but they also have to endure the disdain of the rest of the world.
This is why I write this blog. In addition to educating others about the saints and The mystical heart of the Church, I primarily want to bring the Truth to the forefront and combat these urban myths about the poor that have multiplied exponentially, thanks to the media. My struggles to get my needs met are common to at least three quarters of the poor population, yet I practice none of the unacceptable social vices that it is assumed I practice, based upon those myths. I am the ordinary standard that represents the poor, not the drug addled, alcoholic, thieving, dishonest characters that are pushed into the media as prime examples. This is why I bring my pedestrian life problems into public view. Showing how the grinding logistical nightmares can wear down a person, and how many blockades there are to survival, has to shatter these preconceived notions about how the poor are too lazy to work and that they just want everything handed to them. Work was never this difficult.
When I left the Hindu convent, I wanted to become a Catholic nun, but numerous blockades came before me, and then chronic health issues multiplied and worsened over the years, so much that I am now unable to be of any use to a community. I knit a few hats for the homeless in winter, crochet some baby blankets for poor mothers, pray for the world, and write this blog. The Lord has placed me in this condition, and I must practice some obedience and say "yes" to his wishes. Keeping the example of our Blessed Mother before me is crucial to my ability to do that. She said "yes" to God in all things, and especially to the most fantastical of requests of His, so I keep my eye on her and ask her to remain with me as a constant reminder of receptivity to the will of the Lord.
In my own fashion, I live as a hermitess here in my city apartment. I have my own little "convent," of sorts, and I work toward a state in which I am praying always. I beg for your prayers, that my monastic life becomes more true, regardless of where I find myself. Mostly, however, I ask that you please pray for the poor and be kind to them. Don't support the urban myths about them. Love them instead. Pop whatever bubble in which you live and go out among the poor so beloved by Christ.
God bless you all.
Silver Rose Parnell
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