You meet a lot of people at the food pantry.
The old man, 83, who came in. A small wiry fellow. He took great pains to explain to me that he has worked all of his life, at the same place, too. When the owner of the business died, the job was done, but he was old, and it wasn't a bad thing, retiring. He had a wife, and between the two of them, their social security tided them over. There wasn't extra for luxuries, but they were making it, and they were happy enough. And then she died. On his pension alone, suddenly, he could no longer make ends meet. So, as I gave him his bags of food, he said, "If you happen to hear of anyone needing someone to do odd jobs, I'd be interested.
83 years old.
I asked him what kind of work he was looking for. He said, "I repair lawn mowers. I do lawn work. I'm not as fast as I used to be, but I'm a steady worker and I do a good job."
I took down his name and phone number, and promised to keep my ears open. I came back inside and sat down, picking up my cell phone. My friend, who lives on a tiny house up the river from us, was looking for someone to do some light yardwork.
I messaged her and said, "You're NOT going to believe this..." but she did, and she took down the number.
She was surprised to see two men show up at her door the next day, a younger fellow and the wiry little old man. She told them what needed doing, and it touched her heart to see that the younger man carefully selected the lightest work for the old man, and did the heavier work himself. After working for several hours, they got everything done. She asked how the young man how she should pay them and the young man quietly said, "Just go ahead and give him the money," indicating the old man with a slight nod.
My friend curiously asked, "Are the two of you related?" and the younger man said, "No. He has been a friend for a long, long time."
That's a touching story.
There's the grandmother who has custody of her grandchild. She was doing perfectly well too. Her job supported her nicely. But now there's a grandchild who is still in diapers, and her mother, the child's great-grandmother, is helping out with childcare, because Grandma can't afford it on what she makes. Those additional expenses made her life very difficult. but she was fiercely determined to do the best that she could for this innocent child who didn't deserve any of the crap hand that life had dealt him so far. She started out using the diaper ministry, but in talking with her, it was determined that she could use some help with food too. She was embarrassed to death, and we talked a long time with her. "Listen," we said, "you're doing a lovely thing for that grandchild, and we can help you."
You can see it written plainly on a lot of faces. They feel like they need to explain that this is temporary, that it wasn't always like this. It doesn't matter to me. I don't ask a lot of questions. Just the general stuff "How many in your family?" "Any allergies?"
It works out okay. I'm feeling my way along carefully. I don't want to fail.
Last week, a fellow came in. He's tall and thin, I had been introduced to him by another woman helping out. She explained that he and his wife had recently divorced, after over 30 years of marriage, to qualify for more assistance. They had it rough, my friend thought, because they had these children who had moved back in with them, and these children had returned with their children too.
Jill later related this with not one trace of judgment and she and the man stood and talked in a friendly way long after I'd given him 3 bags of food. I felt ashamed of myself as I listened to her, because I felt the curlings of ugly judgment in me.
Last week the man returned. We had been hard hit with food requests and we are a small food pantry. I put together two bags of groceries for him from what we had. I try to assemble things that can be put together to be meals. I'm pretty good at that, if I do say so myself. As I set the things down on the table, he said abruptly, "In three days, they are going to shut off my water. I need $50."
A little taken aback, I hesitated, unsure of how to advise him. He said, "I talked to my brother and he won't lend me any more money. Said he's done. If I have to get a job, I guess that's what I'll have to do."
I said, "Well...I'll keep my ears open..."
He picked up his bags. "You know, they used to give you gift cards and you could do your own grocery shopping. Why'd they stop that?" He seemed kind of angry when he said, "This needs double bagged."
I watched him walk away, and I found myself thinking, 'maybe I'm not right for this job...' because there I was, Judgy McJudgerson. Jill looked at him and saw a human being. She somehow was able to look past all that. Me? I was thinking some pretty uncharitable thoughts about the man and I was not happy with that response.
The man fit every single negative stereotype you hear about the poor, about how they use the system, how they are lazy, how they are their own problem, etc etc etc. The local bumper stickers that read, "I work hard. Millions of people on welfare depend on me" or the folks that believe that hungry children should remain their parents' problems, not ours. It goes on and on, the angry rhetoric about 'them', as if they are a subspecies, something less than us, as if they deserve their lot in life.
There I was feeding right into that mindset. I was ashamed of myself. What if I wasn't the right person for the job?
I'm not sure where the answer came from, but by the time that I was walking to my car, I was able to see one thing very clearly: Mr H was not representative of most of the people I meet. He was an exception to the rule. That if I allowed one negative experience to cloud my judgement of everyone coming for help, I wasn't fit for the job.
And with a little effort I turned my thinking to the other things.
I have been wondering how your meal assembly plan is going. We all have instilled and inherited prejudices. As long as we can recognise them in ourselves and not act on them, we will be ok. It's good that you had clarity of thought on your walk to your car. The old saying? You can help some of the people some of the time but you can't help everyone (and nor the users of the systems).ReplyDelete
Every morning during announcements at the school, during the "moment of silence", I remind myself to always be grateful for my job, even on bad days. Then I tell myself to meet every human being I encounter with the grace, patience, and recognition of their humanity that I would want for myself. I'm not religious, but that's my little morning prayer.ReplyDelete
Well, let me tell you, I fail at it regularly.
It's hard. Making judgments about others, especially those who don't seem to share our values, is maybe the most human thing we do each day. I have to check myself regularly and hold myself accountable. None of us know what someone else has been through or is going through. It's especially hard when you see someone behaving badly.
All that is to say, don't beat yourself up too much about this. You're doing the best you can, and better than most. At least you're aware! I think you're the perfect person for your job.
Fantastic account and thoughts too. You are doing an impressive thing.ReplyDelete
Food for thought. I feel your pain, because I, too, catch myself being judgemental. I don't say anything, but a thought arises in my mind, then I have to scold myself.ReplyDelete
Debby - how right you are. Most people are good and kind and thoughtful and we must concentrate on that - never allow the exceptions to change our minds on that.ReplyDelete
It is very hard to not be judgmental with people. It is something I too struggle with from time to time.ReplyDelete
You are a very practical and caring Christian Debby. I always think there but for the grace of God.ReplyDelete
These are heartbreaking yet beautiful stories. The more people we meet, the more we learn about them and ourselves.ReplyDelete
As Jennifer says, sometimes I find it hard not to automatically make judgements about people but I do now tend to keep them to myself. I once made the mistake of talking to my husband about my thoughts about someone and he blabbed it to all and sundry. Now I keep everything to myself.ReplyDelete
And good for you... It's hard knowing when and when not to judge - it seems to me that both can be a virtue. But humility and little awareness of the way luck falls is a good starting point, as is an abundance of caution in our quickness to assume. None of us are near to perfect and we are all better than our worst thoughts and actions. So as I said, good for you.ReplyDelete
A lot of people in the next small town get a food card, They than will sell it for about half price and buy drugs and drinks. I hurt for the little kids, some live in cars, I worked school food service 23 years so knew family history of a lot of families. I always made sure those kids got extra food, Some of the parents were farm workers and did not always have a good pay. On Moonday morning those kids were ready to eat whatever we had and any extra others did not want. So sad, we have a lot of food banks here so that helps.ReplyDelete
When I first moved to my trailer park, my next door neighbor was in dire straits. While I did not approve of her expenditures, I could not let her literally be hungry while too sick to get out of bed. I even took her to the emergency room for breathing treatments. She got well and has been able to work the last several years. But sometimes she will want something and drop too many hints that she had asked a lot of people to buy her, for example, a Netflix gift card. And finally I do and she is all smiles and happy again for a period.ReplyDelete
I think you’re being a bit hard on yourself here. We are all human. While you can turn the other cheek and offer this man grace (which you did), his attitude stinks and I’m not sure allowing him to carry on in that fashion does him any favors. Just a thought. (I love hearing about the food bank. God’s work there — did I mention grace?)ReplyDelete
Yes Debby you put it all so well, somehow the land of the rich is America and we never quite see the other side. Your goodness is recognised and don't worry too much about judgement we all do it.ReplyDelete
I am not being hard on myself. I think that examining my own biases and assessing them allows for personal growth. I believe that it's something we all have to be mindful of in these days. Have you ever met "good monsters?" People who hold positions in churches, but instead of using that position to truly do what God expects, they become critical and authoritative and the ministry becomes more about them than it does about the people they are supposedly serving. I know myself and my own shortcomings.ReplyDelete
Where I work now, my work deals indirectly with Child Services.ReplyDelete
I am sometimes very, very judgy.
Well...my ex-son-in-law, a two time felon with prison time, mounted a serious attempt to get William. Mind you he hasn't seen him since he was five. I read a couple days ago that he had a drug charge. Looking it up, I see that he had another just three weeks prior. I did a happy dance. He can be what he wants to be, but he has no right to inflict that life on a little boy.ReplyDelete
There you have it. The reason that I know for a fact that I can be a terrible, terrible person.