Monday, September 21, 2015

The One We're All Ignoring

Yesterday D and I participated in one of our favorite mother/daughter activities. We went to the ballet and we had a wonderful time. This isn't, however, a review of that or a comment on our relationship. This is about something I wish didn't exist in the world or, at the very least, in this country.

D takes eons in the shower. I am forever telling her to hurry up. Nineteen years of "hurry up." I had plans to go to Pancake Pantry and indulge in some Chocolate Sin before the ballet. We ran out of time so we stopped at Panera instead because it was on the way and fast enough. I despise being late, missing out on a chocolate craving, and having to drive like a maniac so I wasn't in the best mood.

While we were sitting there, by the window, scarfing down our soup and salads, D pointed to a woman sitting on the curb outside. "She's homeless and she has a little girl." Indeed, there sat a woman with a little girl who looked to be about four. I couldn't see her sign from where I sat, but I was disconcerted enough. If you have a stereotype of what a homeless woman and her daughter look like, they didn't fit it. They were neatly dressed, hair combed, talking to each other.

A very sweet man bought them some food from Panera; he took them sandwiches and water. I couldn't hear them, but they looked grateful. The woman took a sandwich out of one of the bags and unwrapped it to hand to her small child. I didn't see her eat so I don't know if she was saving her meal for herself for later or for her daughter.

D and I decided that we would give them something as well. I've been carrying an unused Subway gift card in my car for a time like this. We gathered together the few dollars we had, mine scrounged from the bottom of my purse.

I was able to read her sign when we pulled up in front of them. "PLEASE HELP. I lost my job and I am pregnant." The rest of it said something about needing money for gas, which I'm assuming she needs to both find another job and to get to that job. My heart broke for her.

The little girl got up to come get the money and gift card we offered. She was adorably sweet and absolutely precious. She should have been spending the afternoon playing in the beautiful fall weather rather than accepting money and food from strangers. She thanked us politely and the mother thanked us repeatedly and genuinely.

Entering the freeway, I told Devon that because she was late, we were given that opportunity. She looked at me like I had just insulted her, not realizing that I really meant it. Had she been on time, we would have eaten food that we didn't need, making gluttons of ourselves. Instead, we were given an opportunity to help someone and I was truly grateful for both the opportunity and the gift of gratitude itself.

But secondly, and maybe more importantly, I was so disappointed that I live in a community and in a country where this is allowed to happen. Where a family lives on the verge of poverty on a daily basis and the loss of one paycheck can send them to the street. Where mothers have to swallow their pride to feed their children and their unborn babies. Where their sacrifices are far more than lost sleep or a few stretch marks.

We are heavily into election season and, while I haven't yet paid attention to what is happening on the democrat side, I have been made acutely aware of the opinions of the GOP. I know they are focusing on the rights of gun owners, and immigration reform, spending large amounts of time blaming our current president, and gleefully trying to strip away the rights of women, largely in the form of defunding Planned Parenthood.

If this mother I saw can't afford to buy gas for her car, then I doubt she has money for prenatal care. She is choosing life, she's choosing to give life. Planned Parenthood is probably the best resource for her, but those in power want to take this away from her. Why? When abortions account for only 3% of the services they provide, what about the other 97%? What about this woman sitting on a curb holding a sign so she can hold her family together?

And nowhere in either of the debates did I hear anyone talk about women like her. Or men like her. I know there are plenty of single dads out there working just as hard to make ends meet, but hers is the face I will see when I think of the unfairness in this country. Hers and that of her little girl with the brown curls, dressed in pink.

We give lip service to these issues occasionally. Myself included. I handed a stranger a restaurant gift card and a few dollars. I'm telling you about it. In two days I leave for a vacation where I will have unlimited access to food I can gorge myself on and I will let go of all cares, including this one. I have that luxury.

We all have luxuries. We all have it better than someone else. I don't want to pay lip service. I want to do more. I want us all to do more. The only thing I have hope for right now is that enough people helped that woman yesterday, and maybe in the next week or so, that she can get back on her feet and this will be a great inconvenience to her rather than a new way of life. I really, really hope so. But unless we change as a society, there will be someone different sitting at that corner tomorrow. I might not see her. I  might be on time for my decadent chocolate breakfast. I might be so busy rushing to the next errand or to meet friends or to my job that I don't see her.

So my other hope is that you also miss brunch or you have to stop for gas and your eyes are open. I hope that you see people who need help and that you offer that help. I hope you pay attention at the polls. I hope you choose to elect those who care, even if they are far and few between. I hope you participate in your communities. I hope that you don't pass judgment or turn a blind eye.

I know that I won't continue to be haunted by the faces of this mother and her little girl for long, but I hope I am.


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