Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pain and poverty

What I am about to say may sound self-evident, but I think we seldom experience the grace of true understanding when it comes to people who live in poverty.

"Poor people" hurt just like the rest of us (Note: I instinctively resist and resent using the phrase "the poor" to categorize human beings--people aren't poor, they have the circumstances of poverty thrust upon them, often through no fault of their own, as we are learning in this present economy. . .).

Of course, the burdens of poverty dump unusual difficulty on those who must endure that broad, often comprehensive burden. Surely, it hurts to be homeless in ways that I will not understand until I enter that state of being. It hurts to be ill without ready recourse to treatment, care and medication. It hurts to be unable to get places. It hurts to be broke. It hurts to be hungry.

But these are not the pains I have in mind today.

No, I'm thinking of the pains of the heart.

Being hungry hurts. What's worse and deeper and extremely painful to the heart is to see your child hungry and you having no way to relieve that pain.

Going further, those of us who try "to help" people who live in poverty seldom think in terms of the heart, the emotional life of people who face severe, often intractable economic and social problems.

Joe is a friend. He lost a 7-year-old child in a car crash. Joe knows poverty. Joe's heart was broken when his little girl died. Joe will be shaped by this one loss for the rest of his life, just as I would be should something like that happen to me. Will anyone see that, take the time to know that reality, to really know Joe?

People who face poverty also see marriages end, experience the apparent death of key relationships, have hearts broken wide open by betrayal and loss, watch children suffer and fail, stand and look down the road as a friend walks away. They know what it feels like to be ignored, passed over, and shoved to the back of most lines. They feel a deep agony as their children are sent away to prison.

Several years ago, not long after I came to Central Dallas Ministries, I met a very interesting couple. The man was several years younger than the woman. Whether they were married or not, I don't know. They certainly could have been, and they definitely were a couple. Both had experienced severe poverty and homelessness, thanks in large part to substance abuse, terrible childhoods and a basic lack of skills. She lived her life in a wheelchair. He attended to her with a tenderness that at times was palpable. At other times they fought like cats and dogs! They struggled with life, they struggled hard. We tried to intervene, to help, to make a difference. I don't judge that we were very helpful, not really.

A few years ago the woman died.

I encountered the man on the street just a few weeks after her death. He greeted me with his bear hug "hello" and promptly broke down into tears of grief as he explained his loss. He hurt so deeply for her.

You name the human situation of loss or despair and, guess what? Our neighbors who possess nothing also know, possibly as if magnified by their circumstance, the pains of life, loss and love.

We would do well to remember the power of human emotions. We must not forget the universal pain of being human.



Daniel Gray said...

Thanks for this reminder... it's so easy to see "the poor" as just another statistic or just another client, rather than seeing seeing a person and a relationship.

Zach said...

yes, if anything they do feel these relational losses more, because, for lack of the other "things" in life that have our attention, it is those relationships that fill their days.

Even those of us who do this every day need the reminder. Thanks.

Steve said...

Thanks, Larry.

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