Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Human Face of Food Stamps and Matters of the Heart

Simcha Fisher hit publish on a post that struck quite a few nerves. The Day I Bought Steak with My Food-stamps is Simcha at her best: honest, unblinking, challenging.
My purpose here is not to introduce a debate on approaches to public assistance because:

a) I don't do politics,
b) I firmly believe people of good will can legitimately disagree on methods.

No, to me Simcha's piece raises a more fundamental, a more universal matter. A matter of the heart. Specifically our hearts. My heart. Your heart. 

On receiving food-stamps, Simcha writes:
It wasn’t our fault. We didn’t mean it to be this way. We’re really trying. We’re not worthless, truly not!
And they hated us anyway. Oh, man. They told us everything I had been saying to myself: freeloaders. Not willing to work. What’s wrong with America today. Culture of dependency. And all the while, we went around the house with winter jackets and three pairs of socks on, because we couldn’t afford to turn the heat above 60 degrees when it was below zero out. My kids never got a new toy, never got new clothes . . . And we were thoroughly, thoroughly stuck in a neighborhood where everyone was on parole for beating, cheating, or molesting someone else on the street. They set the actual street on fire once . . . My kids were not safe in their own yard. I would let them play in the rain puddles only after checking for used condoms.
I couldn’t stay away from comment boxes about food stamps. And every single one told us that we were shit, because we needed help buying food.

During Lent, my friend and former student Sam Alzheimer penned a beautiful reflection on a scripture that has perpetually both stymied and worried me. Jesus admonishes us not to call another "fool". Now, "fool" just doesn't seem so very bad to me. I mean, does this apply when talking to telemarketers? When driving on Bobby Jones Expressway? I need particulars.

Sam writes: 
Heart disease is a top killer in America.
I’m not talking about the kind of cardiac problems your doctor warned you about . . . No, I’m talking about heart disease of the spiritual variety—the kind Jesus diagnoses in today’s Gospel reading when he tells us not to call others “fools.” 
Call it what you will—contempt, hostility, resentment—it is the disease of negative judgment. It’s having a heart clouded with mean-spirited assessment of others. Need an example? It’s the interior disposition on display on political talk shows. Need an example closer to home? It’s how you feel about that one person who gets under your skin.
I suspect there is a distinction between soberly assessing another person’s faults (when you’re in a legitimate position to do so) and flying off the handle because someone pisses you off. To me, the chief difference is the emotional temperature on display. When your blood boils, the Great Physician is saying you’re in critical condition, spiritually speaking. There’s something in your heart opposed to love, which should be the heart’s primary purpose.
The take away? Mean-spirited judgment of another is real sin . . . The Gospel implies that bad-mouthing (or even quiet, angry judgement) is bad enough to keep you from the altar. Jesus says it leads to hell.
Read the rest here.

A few months back I faced a long day of errands none of which seemed to go swimmingly. I struck out at two different pharmacies trying to get an odd prescription filled. I zipped into the Dollar Tree for some minor item and got stuck in line with a broken cash register. Unbelievably the same thing then happened up the road at Lowe's. My final stop involved a return at K-Mart, never a pleasant prospect.

I stood in a long line at customer service stewing about just how little I had managed to accomplish in a substantial chunk of time. And as I stewed and stood and waited and stewed just a little more, I spied a woman coming through the front entrance.

She was wearing slippers and pajamas.

Now, we all know this is a thing, right? College students wear sleep pants to class. Adolescents come into the pediatrician's office in their jammies.This took the trend a step further. We're not talking pseudo-lounge wear, just down a notch down from yoga pants. No, no. This lady was wearing a thin nightgown.

Naturally my thoughts moved from the state of customer service in America (Horrible! Inefficient!) to the state of dress in America (Ridiculous! Scandalous!).

I eventually made it out of customer service and meandered over to the pharmacy to give that prescription a third try. Long story short, the woman in her jammies was there.  We ended up waiting and waiting and waiting and in the course of waiting we began to chat. 

At some point I peered into her basket, and here's what I saw: newborn diapers, onesies, infant formula, maxi pads. And I looked at the woman and saw beyond the infamous nightgown to her rounded belly, to the bandage on her hand. 

And suddenly she told me, "I just got came from the hospital. I had a baby."

We chatted some more.

"Can you check my nightgown? Do I have a stain," she wondered.

"You're fine," I told her. 

"I need these prescriptions," she told me, "and sometimes it's just easier to pick them up yourself, you know?"

I nodded because that's what you do. 

But I don't know. 

I've never left the hospital with a newborn and headed to the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions. I have a husband and two sisters and a vast slew of friends and, no, I don't know -- at all -- what it's like to be newly post-partum standing in line at a pharmacy wondering if you're visibly passing blood.

And I was ashamed. 

Of every petty, provincial, judgmental, holier than thou thought that I had so willingly entertained.

Sam's words capture it all -- contempt, hostility, resentment, the disease of negative judgment, mean-spirited assessment of others. 

In short, heart disease.


Anonymous said...

Very powerful post, thank you.

Holly Parlier said...

Crying! So good. Thanks for writing this.

Holly Parlier said...

Crying! So good. Thanks for writing this.