Several years ago, I checked a Whitney Otto book out of the library. It was called, Now You see Her.
On Whitney Otto’s web site , a summary of the book includes this sentence, “The insecure central character, Kiki Shaw, is single and nearing 40 when she notices that she’s becoming transparent.”
It didn’t take me long to put the book down, not because I dislike Otto’s writing style. No, it was the idea of transparency that was too painful. It had tapped into one of my deepest fears. Some times, the things one fears the most are destined to come to pass.
This fear is about more than simple transparency. It is invisibility, of a non-being caused by not being seen. It is being so insignificant as to not matter. This transparency, this invisibility, this non-being is a negation that creates a pit of shame, frustration and failure at the center of my soul. It is a feeling that surrounds and punctuates my life more often than I care to admit. In the admitting, the trap door to annihilation opens more than a crack.
Lately, I’ve often felt this door opening below me. I often dangle above it like a broken puppet.
On my way home from work today, I look at the gas gauge inching below the quarter tank mark. I mentally note the day of the week and wonder if there will be enough to get me through. My mind starts to tally all the things that are wrong and could go wrong but I push my way in this tumble of panic and change my thoughts to something lighter, something that provokes less anxiety.
Stopping at the pharmacy, I discover that I’m out another $45. I ask for a verification of the price, hoping for a tiny miracle. The clerk is impatient and unsympathetic. Embarrassed, I sigh and hand my debit card to her. “You can try. Hopefully, it will go through,” I say
At times, I’ve written candidly about being poor. My primary motivation is to share a significant part of my life in hopes of giving it a human face. Few people expect to struggle below the Federal Poverty Level. Many of us do and we often aren’t who you think we are. (I’d share some US Census Bureau statistics here if the web site wasn’t shut down along with parts of the Federal government.)
There is a lot of shame involved when you can not adequately provide for yourself and worst still your family. Honestly, despite my own personal experience,some times I still judge others harshly. Society associates poverty with failure, with character flaws or even laziness. I have been judged of those same things and it has been a very painful thing to endure. When I have judged someone else, it’s to hide the pain I feel. I want to create a barrier between me and them so I can feel safe, superior, exempt. It is an illusion. The sense of frustration and failure can be profound especially when the years drag on and the hope of the “ship coming in” grows cold. Blaming the poor for the poverty is easy but living it is something very different. Indulging in denial at times, is a fault that is built on the difficulty of dealing with the moment by moment reminders that nothing tangible separates us from them. I’m convinced that this lies at the center of judgment and that this is too painful for most people to admit.
I will go to my grave believing that every one has a moral, social, and human responsibility to help the less fortunate. It’s not pity or free handouts that the vast majority of the poor want or need. The poor need human respect. The need to be acknowledged. They need to be encouraged. They need legitimate ways to improve their lives and their financial situations. They need to be seen.
Some times life will bounce your out of your place with a swift sudden kick. There isn’t any insurance against it. It’s not because you did something wrong. It isn’t fair. It leaves you lying awake at night crying. It can paralyze you with worry. It can start to destroy your hope and your desire to keep trying.
So, the next time, you start thinking critical of me and other people like me, hold that thought. Keep it to yourself. Don’t tell me all the things I should be doing or what I’m doing wrong. Speak words of encouragement. Treat me with compassion. Have a positive attitude. Look beyond my job, my bank account, my 14 year-old car with bad brakes, my run-down house that I will eventually lose and see the person underneath. See me.