Avoiding vs. Embracing Poverty (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Poverty has a Woman's Face (Retrieved on March 7, 2015 from www.mtholyoke.edu)

Poverty has a Woman’s Face (Retrieved on March 7, 2015 from http://www.mtholyoke.edu)

If I was a gambler, I would bet that no one ever thinks she or he would lose financial stability and become impoverished in our great land of opportunity. I mean, 65 years ago, my mother’s family immigrated to the United States from Poland and Germany because this is the land flowing with “milk and honey.” After all, the streets in the United States are supposed to be “paved with gold,” right? I guess it all depends on who you talk to.

Sure, my immigrant grandparents obtained work and opportunities in America, but they worked and slaved hard to achieve it. Sometimes, they worked up to three jobs at a time to pay for a home, food, and clothing for their four children. Though they worked hard, they were still poor. There was no money for sending any of the kids to college. But, that was also a time when people could make a decent living by having only a high school diploma. Today, the expectation is that one must have at least a college degree.

My dad has also always been a hard worker. Beginning as a little kid, he would sell soda pop at the weekly community bingo games. Then, he would collect the empty bottles back and return them for deposit compensation. He was also a newspaper delivery boy, and then he pumped gas to fill customer’s vehicles at the gas station. My grandfather worked, but my grandmother did not; and my grandfather died when my dad was 17. There was no money for college. I doubt it was even considered. Even so, my dad became a dedicated employee of the State of New York for 37 years.

As a girl, growing up, I had all the expectations about life that many girls probably do.  When I grew up, I was going to have the million dollar family, the home in the suburbs with the white picket fence, a great career, and everything was going to be rosy. We would live happily ever after – or so I thought.

The real fact of the matter is that a few things have been rosy, but most things have been a great struggle. I never imagined that from my upper middle class background that I would be at below poverty level status. I have experienced the feminization of poverty in America. Considering everything, however, I think that I’ve done really well. I have avoided poverty as much as possible, but it is still with me. Poverty has been my lover for the past 7 years now. I don’t love him, but he can’t seem to get enough of me.

No matter what I’ve tried, no matter how I’ve tried to help myself for the past 7 years, I’ve been unable to escape the specter of poverty. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I’ve never used drugs, I am intelligent and hard-working, and I am one of the kindest people you will ever meet in your life. I have also learned to be extremely careful with what I have, in both possessions and finances. I am also not one to complain…because I know there are always those out there who are in a worse position than me.

Perhaps these are reasons that no one ever would suspect my true financial status. In fact, when I attempt to broach the subject with people, nearly everyone always brushes it off. They don’t take it seriously. I mean, how many impoverished people look as good as I do? How many care for and support their family as well as I do? One charity volunteer who interviewed me a couple of years ago honestly stated to me, “You don’t look poor.” I don’t look poor. And, I am not poor – I am impoverished.

Throughout these past years, I have tried to do what I can to help myself and my family. I have tried to avoid poverty. I have tried to be as frugal as possible. I don’t have healthcare, nor do I have the money for it. I have been unemployed out of my main career field for the past six years. I have gone back to school, twice, in an effort to jump start my career and get back on my feet. Either those efforts did not work or there were unforeseen setbacks that occurred. I can already foresee student loan payments in the near future that I will likely be unable to make, thus destroying what little progress I’ve managed to make recently.

There are so many other things that I could say and identify that have happened, but there are some things that are just better left private. I do not want the situation to get worse by divulging too much. After all, I’ve learned in life that when you’re down, most people are there to ignore you and/or kick you around.  Those who are encouraging and supportive are truly few and far between.

Life is truly about the survival of the fittest. In our competitive United States, I think cooperation. Where I think kindness, too many others think selfishness. And, people who have never experienced poverty simply cannot and do not understand it, nor can relate to it. When you try to explain it to them, they have no clue about it. For someone such as myself, I do not look for sympathy, but understanding, support, and opportunities for empowerment. If people are unable to relate, then there is no chance for any of that to occur at all.

So, while I have done and continue to do what I can for the best of myself and my family in trying to avoid Poverty, it seems to have gotten the better of me again. Just when you think you cannot cinch your belt any tighter, it becomes even more constricting. So, I have thought that, perhaps, I am doing it all wrong. Maybe I should not try to avoid or run from Poverty, maybe I should just embrace him. But, then again, I cannot do that, or Poverty will have won. Remember, Poverty loves me, but I do not love him. He might think that he has won, but he has not. I will be okay; I will be a Poverty survivor.

Survival (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Survival means different things to different people.  Survival may be a concept that many believe applies only to animals or creatures living in the wild.  Of course, there are those “survival” shows on TV, as well, in which people place themselves in risky and dangerous situations for the sake of money, fame, and entertainment.  Being smart about survival when outdoor temperatures are too hot or too cold, or when natural disasters occur, saves lives.  But, there are additional meanings to the word, ‘survival,’ as well, to be explored here.  For people who experience traumatic situations, survival means applying ways to protect oneself in order to continue living, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

To many people who are without work, shelter, and/or food, survival means doing what is needed to live for another day, week, month, year.  To families where this is the case, survival means sacrifice, sometimes doing without life’s comforts, cutting back on food, doing as little as possible in order to spend as little money as possible.  For people who have lost jobs, homes, incomes, marriages, savings, credit standing, and more, survival means sacrifice and doing the best one can to survive every day.

What I have experienced in each of those situations is that most people turn away from those who are in need.  Most folks are unable to believe it and really cannot stomach it to hear about other’s woes of poverty.  When people are so poor that they turn to doing things that are illegal, it does not surprise me, I don’t wonder why.  I would not reduce myself to such a level, however I understand why it happens.  Most people who “have” keep what they have.  There is an incredible level of blindness by the haves toward the “have nots.”  And, with the economic woes our country has experienced over the past several years, I, personally, have not experienced improvement.

The holidays are the toughest time of the year.  One wants to provide for their children for these special times.  Thankfully, there are others in my extended family who have more means to provide than I do since I must now live within the bare means.  But, it is always saddening and disappointing when folks such as myself are overlooked, even in a basic need for food.  No one ever expects to see someone who is Caucasian to be begging, and even if they do, they don’t believe it and are in denial, typically seeking something illegal rather than simply being a good Samaritan.

So, this year, I didn’t beg.  Instead, I lost weigh by eating less.  Cutting out the fattening food and just eating less won’t hurt me.  One has to live, or rather, survive.  One is not living when each day, week, month, year is a financial struggle.  Being a step away from walking or riding the bus instead of having a vehicle, or being a step away from making a home out of the vehicle is not living, it’s surviving.  I don’t know how people do it.  I don’t know how I’ve survived, but where there’s a will, there’s always a way.  I have less, but I am blessed because I have learned to survive with it.  Survival of the fittest.

The best part about survival is that I have learned much from it.  I’ve learned that I can survive on nothing.  I can survive on a shoe string.  I can use what I have, and when I don’t have anything, I can go without.  I will always go without so my family has what is necessary.  So, survival has also built my character, my persistence, my perseverance, not that I needed any more of that, however.  But, the worst part about survival is that it has also eroded my faith and hope in people.  Basically, life is a struggle, so one must be thankful for the good that there is.

Sacrifice.  Survival.  Those are my two words for today.  What do they mean to you?