Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Poverty is the subject of thousands of blogs today. For so long I can't remember when I first saw her, a Hispanic woman has been beside the subway entrance I use every morning. She has a styrofoam picnic cooler which is full of hot tamales wrapped individually in foil and she has an insulated picnic urn full of cafe con leche. She sell breakfast to the other Hispanic people who arrive at that corner going to their jobs as janitorial assistants, deli clerks, stock "boys", cleaning ladies, and the guys who wait on the corner for pick-up jobs. She is there in every kind of weather - if it's raining hard she's under the overhang of the store across the sidewalk. She must get up a 3:00 or 4:00 to make the tamales. Many of the men who buy their breakfast from her probably live with several others in cramped rooms, possibly with only the most basic kitchen and perhaps have no idea how to cook. This is one face of urban poverty -- no one gets up in the wee hours to cook and then faces the weather all year 'round because it's a dream job. Perhaps she has a cleaning or baby sitting or some other job in the afternoon. I have no idea. Perhaps she sends a money order home to Guadamala or wherever every week.

A woman at my quilt group last weekend spoke to a friend about children coming to the day program at which she works. "We serve them lunch and it's the first food they've have that day," she said. My daughter Leslie who works with mentally and physically handicapped adults who live in group homes tells me many come to the day program she runs without the lunch the homes are supposed to supply so she must find lunch for them -- sometimes out of her own pocket, because the owners of the group homes haven't received money from the state for months and are many times mortgaging their own homes to run the group homes. Many of the handicapped people are alone, without family, most have nothing.

Many older people who have only social security checks truly have to choose between buying food and buying medicine. The same old coat will keep them warm enough another winter, although they may have to keep the thermostat very low, the same shoes will protect their feet although they'd be ashamed for many people to see the condition of the shoes, but they cannot afford the diabetes medications or they don't know enough about medicine to know which of the many drugs the doctors so cavalierly prescribe are keeping them alive and which are "recommended for someone your age." Neither they, nor often their MDs,know that the anti-cholesterol pills have only a 17% chance of saving them from a heart attack, while the anti-hypertnsion pills,if taken in doses that keep the blood pressure in a safe range, will probably save them from having strokes -- and usually the blood pressure pills are much less expensive. There is poverty of information and education as well as financial poverty and frequently the poor education has, of course, led to the financial poverty.

These are a few of the kinds of poverty that have come to my attention, not for the first time, but lumped together in the last few weeks. It's easy to walk through our days with blinders on. Put the headset on and listen to music, chat away on the cell phone and ignore everything around you. My advice: Don't! Don't stop looking at the world you live in. Don't think it has nothing to do with you. Don't think they're getting by and you have to worry about your own problems. At least SEE your neighbors. At least know the world you live in and let yourself feel. Care. You'll act in some way -- whatever way you can ... when you care.

1 comment:

Frank said...

I read your blog with interest. I had the dream job at JPMorgan Chase. When I started I thought how incredible lucky I was to land a position with Chase. The money was unbelievable. After a very short time, I began to realize what a bunch of phonies I was working with, and I quite. I rather get up at any time, sell hot tamales in any kind of weather, than work in the so called “dream job.”