Thursday, October 1, 2009

Let them eat cake

This post has been burning a hole in my brain.

A couple of days ago I mentioned on Facebook that it is Jordan's and my policy, when approached by someone claiming to be in need, to help them. This means that if someone comes up and says they need just $2 for gas to make it to their friend's house, we give it to them. I recognize that sometimes these people are lying, but sometimes they aren't. What if we write everyone off as a liar and pass up an opportunity to truly help someone as a result? Therefore, we try not to judge. A couple of dollars or some spare change means very little to me and I'd rather take a chance on wasting it.

Someone replied to my statement, though, saying that people asking for money (in the gas scenario I gave) are ALWAYS scammers. He went on to say that this is 2009 and anyone with a gas emergency can use a credit card.

That is like saying people who have no bread should eat cake. Not everyone has a credit card. Jordan and I don't, by choice. Others don't have them because they can't get them. To get a credit card you need credit. At the very least, you need the promise of cash coming in. I believe Jordan and I were required to provide proof of income to get the ones we had before. But let's just say for the sake of argument that they handed them out to anyone who asked. Some people have no money. Some people have no job. Even if those people wanted to pay their credit card bills, they couldn't, and they would soon be taken away. Why are more people not aware that we are the haves and there is another culture of have-nots right here among us?

Both my parents have college degrees and had good full-time jobs with benefits, so I grew up with everything I needed at my feet. However, there are three times I can remember (probably many more) when I depended on the kindness of others.

1) I was 14 years old and on a class trip to Six Flags. I went to the bathroom only to discover that oh NO, I'd started my period and I hadn't thought to take a pad. I was going to be there all day with a bunch of guy friends. I had no change for the pad machine. What the HELL was I going to do? It may not seem like a big deal to a 25-year-old, but to a little teenage girl it was horrific. I came out of the stall and tearfully began asking the other girls in the restroom, strangers from other schools, if any one of them had a pad. No one did. Just when I thought all hope was lost, one of the girls pulled a quarter out of her pocket so I could get a pad from the machine. God bless her. And I still remember it 11 years later.

2) When I was 17 I went for a walk in the woods with my then-boyfriend. It was on a trail that we thought was a loop, so we didn't turn straight around when we were ready to go back. It wasn't a loop. The trail took us on a 3-hour hike into the next state and the park was about to close when we ran into another couple to ask them where we were. There was absolutely no way we'd have been able to get back to where my parents were waiting before (long after) dark. This was a guy I'd met online so I'm sure they thought I'd been murdered and would have called the police soon. The couple gave us a ride in their car back to where we'd come from.

3) In the lunch line one day at work, I had my food all picked out only to discover they were unable to accept credit cards that day. I had no cash, so I was about to walk all the way out to the ATM and pay a fee to get just three bucks. The man behind me handed me a $5 bill without being asked so I wouldn't have to. I was really grateful.

I'll bet if you think hard, you can come up with some stories like this in which you have come up a little short and were helped by a stranger. Stuff happens! If things like this happen to us, the haves of society, is it so inconceivable that someone else with no job and no support system might need our help as well? I'd say they deserve to be treated the same way we would want to be treated, wouldn't you?

There seems to have been a rash of Marie Antoinettes recently. Have you heard about the #NestleFamily controversy on Twitter? It seems that many people were unaware of Nestle's unsavory business practices. If you don't know, they have a history of engaging in deceptive marketing practices (particularly in third-world countries) that undermine breastfeeding and sometimes cause the deaths of innocent babies. (Please read the full account here.) You would think that once someone understood this, they would be concerned and ready to avoid buying Nestle or at least eager to do more research, right? Some of them are, but others are saying it's ridiculous to blame Nestle for those babies' deaths because no one can take away a mother's right to breastfeed. They are saying that if mothers didn't have clean water or enough money to buy plenty of formula, they never should have started formula feeding. This is a tragic lack of understanding. Here, we have the benefit of hearing that breast is best. Most people know this is the general consensus of health professionals. In third-world countries, however, women may think that if formula is so popular in the United States, it must be good for babies. They might try the free sample without knowing that by the time it is gone their milk supply will have dried up. They may not realize how expensive formula is and that they are only getting it free for a limited time. Here, we have lactation consultants in most hospitals to help with our breastfeeding issues. I know I would have had a hard time without the help I received with breastfeeding both my babies! It is unreasonable to expect women to be able to breastfeed successfully without these resources and knowledge, and in the face of a product that seems so helpful and innocuous on the surface. These women and babies do not have what they need.

Lastly, I think this applies to healthcare. I have avoided mentioning this issue until now because I have friends and I'd like to keep them. I'm not saying I have all the answers, but I am saying that the current system has failed people. It has left hardworking people in financial ruin. It has left people without the care they need and deserve. I can appreciate that people may not agree with Obama's brand of reform; however, what I cannot appreciate is the opinion that nothing is wrong with our current system. I'd wager that the people who hold this opinion either have sufficient health insurance or have never had a serious health issue, or both. "Yes, I have cake!" they say. "I worked hard for my cake! If these (uninsured) people want cake, they can get a job with benefits and eat cake too!" The problem is that there have been fewer and fewer jobs available that offer benefits. Jordan and I are thankful beyond words that he has his. I have seen friends get their affordable coverage yanked out from under them as their companies try to save money. Many people are willing to work and earn subsidized healthcare, but don't have that privilege. Yes, it is a privilege. Other people may have a hard time getting insured (or getting insured affordably) because of pre-existing conditions. I have friends and family with serious, expensive ongoing health problems, so I feel passionately that things need to change in some fashion.

Until college, I was at least mostly unaware of people in all these situations. I had a college professor who strongly believed some people were stuck in poverty and could not get out by themselves, and he advocated for them. He opened my eyes to the fact that there are impoverished, even homeless families living right here under our noses--not just in other countries and faraway places the way we'd like to imagine. It's just pathetic that some people grow up and still do not know these things. They ought to teach it in schools.

Be thankful for the cake you have. Understand that others have none. Share your cake without judging.


Theresa said...

Well Amen, Sister!!Well said!

Anonymous said...

Very well said.

I will add that since I've had kids I have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers. Like the time all of the change had fallen out of my wallet at home and I had no quarter for the pony ride at the grocery store. Not world-ending to me, but had it not been for a kind woman my 4-year-old would have completely melted down.

Unknown said...

here, here!!
your post (of course!) is very compassionate... articulate, reasonable.