During this very week, in the years 2013, 2014, and 2017, our family of six accepted the challenge to experience food insecurity. Inspired by the documentary, Living on One Dollar, filmed in the highlands of rural Guatemala, we committed to limiting the quantity, quality and choice of the food that we would consume over a five day period. It was hard, both physically and emotionally, and I find myself – in this moment of quarantine and caution – comparing the motherly stress of parenting through poverty vs. parenting through pandemic. For our family, poverty was the harder test.
Full disclosure here… We are all healthy, and we are fully engaged in both work and school. Miraculously, we have not been economically impacted. And, as an added bonus, we are not missing out on once-in-a-lifetime events like graduations or weddings, nor are we mandatorily separated from a family member who is at high risk or ill. Truly, we are abundantly blessed, and we are surrounded by a significant percentage of families whose biggest debates, like ours, revolve around which new dinner recipe to try and what movie to watch on Saturday night. We, collectively, are so darn lucky.
What is the instinct of the mama bear? To comfort and protect.
Last week, one of my kids told my neighbor that I was being an extra good mother… and that it was weird. I think she may be right on both counts. Like no other time in my parenthood journey have I been more attentive to my kids. I’m baking and cooking on the daily (homemade pretzels… twice)! I am being fun and funny, patient and accommodating (or, at the very least, I am consciously trying harder). I have returned to nesting mode and am slowly tackling projects and experiencing palpable
joy with each achievement. Together with my beloved, we are wrapping our children in a blanket of security and reassurance and hope. Light and love are at home here… along with a new trampoline.
So how does living in the midst of a pandemic, gifted with all necessary resources, compare to living below the line of poverty? During those three distinct weeks of our food challenges, I have never felt more vulnerable and inadequate. I remember welling up as I counted 9 small pretzel sticks for each child’s school snack. And the sawdust taste of the generic cheese blend that we used to flavor our plain pasta. And the craving for protein and fresh fruits and vegetables... and treats. And the statement by my daughter that she didn’t wish to invite a friend to our house because we were poor that week and she was embarrassed by what little we could offer. And the worry that they would not do well in their studies because hunger was impeding their concentration. And witnessing their willingness to share when one needed more than the other… and feeling unworthy of their love for not being able to provide enough. And returning to the market at the end of the challenge, weeping as I savored each choice and relished no limitations. Be reminded that, during these three weeks, only our food intake was impacted. We still had shelter, clothing, access to medical care and transportation… we still collected income and attended school, and yet I felt like I had entirely failed my family. The weight and the darkness of those three weeks sits especially heavy on my heart, because I am now experiencing
gratitude on an entirely new level.
There was a time when I felt resentment toward the word “privilege,” like it somehow discounted the value that I had placed on attaining stability and that it begrudged the random chance that my soul was placed in a vessel that had access to every advantage. Now, I use it as a reminder to withhold judgement and offer grace.
I have experienced only short, temporary moments of economic disadvantage. Plentiful resources are at my fingertips and, should adversity strike, I have rainy day options. In case of downpour, a network of peers will, with certainty, captain our rescue boat. I have privilege.
And so I will not judge those whose economic footing is shaky and who fall asleep each night worrying about how to feed their children’s empty bellies or how to pay their bills. I will not argue with them, from the comfort of my couch, that we should stay inside until September and keep non-essential businesses closed indefinitely. I will not take away from them their potential to be the strongest mama bears that they can be… to have the means to offer comfort and protection to those they love. I simply will not.
My observation has been that actions taken and words chosen in this moment are simply a reflection of each individual’s values and fears. And so it entirely crushes me to watch fellow people of privilege use every platform available to belittle, to name call, to threaten, and to bully… as if their own well-being is worthy of elevation over others. The measurement on the rating scale for self-importance and self-preservation is dishearteningly through the roof. Thank goodness for the countless acts of kindness that serve not only to lift up but also to wash away some of the shame.
Like many, I’ve had considerable time to think over the past month, and – other than the utter disappointment in humanity – I am in a solid emotional space. I recognize my privilege and express gratitude in ways that makes my heart sing and has positive impact on others. I am doing my part to provide “quarinspiration” and to toss little nuggets of love out into the universe. I know it's my calling, but I also feel that it is my duty. "To whom much is given.... "
Next Tuesday is #GivingTuesdayNow, an opportunity to financially support local, national and global service providers and their outreach to the most vulnerable among us. I hope that you will recognize an organization whose work you admire with a donation that is meaningful to you.
And, for those who are looking for your next great Amazon Prime pick, please consider watching Living On One Dollar and meet a few of my remarkable friends. Maybe you, too, will find yourself inspired to personally experience living below the line.
Pandemic or Poverty? Everyone is worthy of rescue.
We are all in different boats, aren’t we? But if you’re floating in one that has any sort of dinghy attached to it, then you truly must count your blessings… and perhaps gently toss out a life ring to the many who are simply trying to tread water.
Peace and love and compassion to all,