When Pope Francis was elected, I remembered hearing about the church’s “preferential option for the poor” about 20 years ago and now have some hope that the church, and society, and maybe even me might give more thought to those in need.
The option for the poor asks everyone to realize the plight of those who struggle to survive and to put the needs of the most vulnerable members of society above selfish interests. But who are “the poor”? And are we really supposed to care about “the poor” when we are struggling to pay the bills and every paycheck buys less of what we need? And how do I draw the line between what I need and what I want?
Those are the questions I struggle with, and I have no answer. The following poem sent by a friend, who wishes to be anonymous, helps me put poverty into perspective but does not answer my questions. Perhaps it is a daily, even hourly decision. Do I “need” that $80 haircut when all I am doing for the next six weeks is teaching school? A $12 haircut won’t frighten children or violate the dress code. As for mirrors, I gave them up when I turned 60. Sixty-eight dollars would feed a Third World family for a month or more. OUCH.
I’m pasting my friend’s poem in my wallet. Maybe that will help.
I have never been in a sand storm
But I have had grit in my eyes
And was driven crazy by the discomfort
One must feel in the desert. I have been
Out of work, taking whatever job
I could, selling door-to-door,
on the phone, selling lies to honest people,
and yes, I know what it’s like
Not to pay the bills and feel
the crushing pain in my chest,
toss sleepless in the nights and feed
My three daughters mushroom soup
Mixed with cheap noodles for dinners
with peanut butter on day-old bread
for lunch. I know this and much more,
But I do not know what it’s like
Being poor all your life and feeling
The pain and humiliation every day
You’re alive knowing there’s no escape.