Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Poverty and the unforgiving nature of life. . .

Life can be very unforgiving at times, especially if you are poor.

Everyone makes mistakes.

If you are living in poverty, the impact of your mistakes tend to be magnified, often beyond what the rest of us can comprehend.

A few days ago I had lunch with a very poor man. He lives on the streets of Dallas. He is clean, sober and looking for work.

I first met him several years ago when he appeared at my office door holding the side of his face. An abscessed tooth was about to take him out. He was angry because he had been trying for days to get help. Again and again he had been frustrated. The pain increased his anxiety and fed his growing rage. We were able to get him the relief he needed. We talked about that day over lunch.

His situation got me to thinking. Poverty can make life very, very unforgiving.

What would you do if you woke up tomorrow with a toothache?

I know what I would do. I'd call my dentist and be on the road to recovery before nightfall. I'd come home from my dentist, pain medication and antibiotic in hand, and I'd go to bed. I'd enjoy soup and ice cream and I'd be back at work the next day.

My friend doesn't enjoy such luxuries.

He did get his tooth attended to, but I bet the 24 hours following the extraction was not pleasant for him.

The memory of his toothache made me think about other situations in my own life when I have made really dumb choices, but found almost instant forgiveness thanks to all of my blessings and benefits.

When I was about 16-years-old, me and my best buddy loaded my 1957 Buick (the car my dad had turned over to me when I started driving) with camping gear for a trip to the woods. We also stopped down in Vickery and bought plenty of beer and bourbon! To make a long story short, my ever-vigilant father caught us! He dealt with me in a way that forced me to face my stupidity on my own. He couldn't have handled my failure or my bad choice any better than he did.

My mistake didn't lead me deeper into destructive life choices.

I found life forgiving because of my parents on many occasions. I'm not at all sure that my homeless friend enjoyed such benefits when he was growing up.

Not every benefit is tied to economic status or class. But, many are. The stability of middle class life, played out over several generations, delivers advantage after advantage that can turn many mistakes into opportunities for learning and growth.

A person with a stable family, good options for education, employment prospects and the expectations of success enjoys tremendous advantages.

I have found life to be a fairly forgiving experience, not because of my superior intelligence, wisdom in decision making or personal morality, but because of a number of built-in advantages that have simply been given to me.

Talk about grace!

It is hard for me to withhold forgiveness when I have received so much of it myself.


Marshall said...

I've been reading your blog for a while but have never commented. This post is one of the simplest explanations for why I consider myself a Progressive/Liberal who believes in social and economic justice. To read it right after last night's election victories makes me finally a tiny bit optimistic (although I think we need to focus more on local politics and less on national politics). Anyway, I'm just commenting to say that your post is moving in its simplicity and its truth, and I hope more people will read it.

Thanks for supporting the fight for justice in Dallas (I live in Richardson, work in Dallas)!

Larry James said...

Marshall, thanks for taking the time to post. I appreciate your comments and your kindness. I agree with your worldview. I hope you will post your ideas again and often!

Eric Livingston said...

I agree with your assessment, Larry. I struggle with how to fix it. Our church family is moving in the right way, but it seems like a drop in the ocean.

Frank Bellizzi said...

The few times I've been around truly poor people, the thought has just kept coming back to me, "How do they make it at all? How do they survive?" As you're pointing out here, the answer is, "Not very well." It makes me wonder, when solidly middle-class American Christians fret, in less-trying circumstances, "What shall we eat? What shall we wear?" are we already being judged by the words of Christ? God, help us; open our eyes.

Nathan said...

For one who hopes to some day have children, I'm curious how your dad dealt with you after being caught?