Oh, the conversations that arose around the table as we read! This was really more of a "What Not To Do" manual, but woven throughout were some hard truths as well that did help explain the cycle of poverty in a very concrete way. After reading the book, the kids each had to write an essay on what their takeaway was. Last night I was reading Angie's essay, and was struck by what she shared, which reflected a wisdom well beyond her age. Here is what Angela wrote:
"The whole world is poor. Linda Tirado fails to realize that every single person is poor in something. Some are poor in spirit, some are poor in good parents, some are poor in knowing themselves, others poor in opportunities, relationships, or even in cognitive reasoning. Each one of us holds a sign that says, "Please Help, I am Hungry." That sign might be saying I am hungry to be known, I am hungry for education, or I am hungry for opportunities. As we avoid looking at the cardboard signs that the homeless or the poor hold, Tirado is glancing away from the signs of poverty we experience. We don't criticize poverty of spirit, mind or experience, but we certainly do when it comes to financial indigence. What's the difference? With financial poverty it is hard to hide your way of life. With other sorts of poverty we can put on masks that will fool the world or to some extent even ourselves. It's impossible to conceal penury. There are no therapists or medications for being poor."
Angie was right, we are all poor in some way or another, and as she pointed out, some ways are just more socially acceptable or more easily hidden from the world. Good writing always ought to make us think, and though Tirado's writing was actually somewhat of an expletive filled personal memoir than an explanation of poverty itself, Angela's writing really made me stop and consider something. I began to ask myself, "What am I hungry for? What might those around me be hungry for?" and then I was inevitably led to the challenging question, "What am I doing about it?"
The imagery Angie brought to mind was powerful, and I imagined sitting in a room full of people, perhaps many I know, and many I don't know. Each was holding a cardboard sign, words boldly scrawled in black Sharpie marker revealing the deepest yearnings of each individual. What have I missed in the lives of those around me, largely because I was focused on that which the world holds in high esteem but which matters little in the long run? Have I missed moments when comfort could have been offered, when a listening ear would have made all the difference, when a helping hand could have lightened the load?
I am convinced of the goodness of mankind. I simply can not walk through the world imagining that everyone wishes to cause harm to others, or is solely
self-interested. We are all capable of being so wrapped up in our own lives that we fail to see the needs of others, but few of us truly desire to live like that. We
Matthew returned from his trip to Washington, DC, where he met with Senators and Representatives and lobbied for funding for Civil Air Patrol, spoke with staff members, witnessed Supreme Court arguments, visited with CIA staff, and much more. The experience left a profound imprint on him, and on the long drive home from Denver he shared some of what he learned.
"I realized one really important thing, Mom. Most of these powerful men and women in Washington really do want to make a positive difference in the lives of Americans. I can't believe that every single politician who is elected and goes to DC wants to ruin our country. They don't set out to make bad decisions, who would do that? Liberals and conservatives all want what is best for our country, they just have different ideas about how to achieve it. We are just at a point where we would rather assign evil intent to those who have differing opinions, than to simply say they have a different plan."
Now, Matt is not naive, and he understands corruption exists in all walks of life. He knows politicians do what they need to do to be re-elected, but underneath it all, I believe he is right. We have come to a time and place when we would prefer to believe the worst in people, rather than the best...and we are poorer in spirit because of it. When we feel the need to bash others and call them evil simply because we disagree with their approach to a problem, who has the real problem??
We are poor in so many ways, our cardboard signs legible and written in bold.
But we don't have to be, we have a choice in that. When we fail to reach out toward others, we impoverish ourselves. We become wealthier every time we extend our hand, when we lift others up, or when we offer comfort and encouragement. We have so many choices about who we are, what we see, and how we walk through the world.
Embracing what is good, forcing our eyes to do more than flit across the surface of sorrows we see and instead rest there a moment so we truly see another in their pain can alter outcomes. Being present with one another, throwing away labels, and reading those cardboard signs with intent to actually do something...anything...to alleviate another's poverty is how we make little changes that lead us to a soul wealth that can't easily be replicated in impact by financial wealth.
I am committing myself to reading the tattered, stained signs written in desperation, to not letting myself off the hook because the world tells me that what is written on those signs is of little import in my own life. It does matter, because I, too, carry one of those very same signs, emblazoned with my own soul's poverty, and I need to hang on to the hope that someone will commit themselves to reading mine, too.
We all need one another, we just haven't yet quite figured that out.