Security and Shame

This Sunday I visited a holiday fair that specialized in charities that needed help for the holidays: thanksgiving and Christmas.

My daughter said, “Hold these.” She tore off to the bathroom and I tried to get out of the way.

“Would you like a chair?” a woman asked.

“No, I’m good.” I could only see the back of her display from where I sat. “What are you here for?”

“This is to help people with clothing and shelter in emergencies.”

“Wouldn’t any time you needed shelter or clothing be an emergency?”

“Sometimes a woman might go to the hospital early and not have an infant car seat or a place to take the baby home. We help with that.”

I was silent a moment.

“You know, ” I said to the woman. “There have been a number of times in my life when I’ve been pretty close to the edge.”

I was remembering when I was first married to my first husband. I had no margin at all. I had quit my job as cook for a daycare, so I could go to college full time. I missed that job as cook because when I had it I could take extra food home with me.

It was a YMCA daycare, and most of the food I cooked with came from a food bank. I never knew what food they’d have, so meal planning was tough. There was always some kind of leftovers I got to take home, so my $7.50-an-hour paycheck didn’t have to pay for food at least.

I hadn’t quit my job cold turkey. I had found part time work. Three part-time jobs, as a matter of fact. Their hours still left me time to take classes. But I had to buy my own food.

It was after Christmas, and we’d still had some things left over from the cook job in our cupboards. Good thing, because we had run out of paycheck and with a couple days to go until the next one.

We had flour, salt, and a few bags of leftover stuffing mix. And food coloring.

The stuffing mix tasted okay. Then we had nothing but flour and salt. We made homemade noodles.

With blue food coloring. We pretended they were some kind of space alien food.

I looked at the woman next to me, “I have learned a few things since those times, and I have thought that the world had changed and become easier to survive in. But I’m not sure if the world has changed so much as I have.”

She said, “It’s probably that you have changed.”

When I think about those times, and how long they lasted and how they should never have happened in the first place, I feel shame and I remember all the ways that I was a victim of….. what?

Exploitation?

Abandonment?

It doesn’t even matter what, now that I think about it. Sometimes things happen in this adventure of life.

I know what they mean when they talk about food insecurity. And I could give tips on all the ways that I survived being poor and cast out. I could be proud of how I climbed my way out.

I am.

And I can see how, if you’re working hard in your 8th month of pregnancy and counting paychecks until the one that lets you afford the car seat you have to have

and then you’re stopped cold because baby came early and there aren’t going to be any paychecks for a while

you could use a little help.

I’m pretty grateful that things worked out for me. I’m thankful for my car, and my house and my job.

I’m thankful for my savings account and my coat and my boots.

It’s a good time to share some of what I’ve got with others.

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