What we need in this culture is the equivalent of a Caring Bridge site for sufferers of poverty. Venting Bridge? Caring Ears?
Seriously. Poverty is in so many ways like a disease: sapping energy, debilitating capacity, preoccupying one’s attention and yet hard to discuss in polite company without feeling awkward or guilty of imposing TMI on an unwilling audience.
At least when a person confides a diagnosis of cancer to friends and family, they don’t have to worry that those friends will feel they are expected to come up with a cure for a disease that expert doctors find baffling. They don’t have to feel they’re being put on the spot in that way.
No, a cure would be welcome of course, but it’s not expected – and often what’s needed most, with both disease and poverty, is a sympathetic ear and the knowledge of being recognized, loved and accepted even in difficult circumstances.
My friends and family may feel that they’ve heard too much about my lack of income, but in fact I keep most of the details to myself.
For instance, when I have to bow out of social events because I lack the funds to participate I don’t generally go on to explain that I’m down to less than $10 in liquid funds and have to conserve my bus fare – so while I might be able to join family at White Castle or McDonald’s, the restaurant they’ve chosen is truly beyond my means. And ‘beyond my means’ is literally, all the money I have would not stretch to cover the expense, not just that it would eat into funds ear-marked for more sensible things like rent and utilities and groceries, let alone more desirable things like a first-run movie I’ve been dying to see. I can and have chosen to spend the last two dollars in my possession on a cup of tea so I could join friends for social events. I would certainly spend my last $5 for a meal at Wendy’s for the sake of seeing a sister passing through town – but when I said I couldn’t afford to join the family for a meal at Applebee’s I was being as literal as one can possibly be.
The lack of discussion around poverty means that people who have not themselves experienced this sort of constriction of means really do not understand the distinction above – between literal and figurative lack of means. They do not understand the kinds of choices and limitations their poverty-stricken connection may be laboring under. They may take offense that so-and-so did not attend their party or send a gift or attend their child’s play – without any idea that doing any of these things may have presented insurmountable obstacles to the offensive poor person.
Attending events requires transportation which may not be available. Sending gifts requires postage even if one is capable of hand-crafting desirable gift items (I mean actually desirable, even after everyone in the family already has one of Aunt Matilda’s hand-knit thingies). It is a real shame when those obstacles give others the impression that ‘she just doesn’t care to be involved’ or ‘she’s not interested in us, with her glamorous writer’s life-style.’
If poverty were treated more as a debilitating disease, it would be easier to see the effects of the stigma. Nobody says, ‘the cancer would go away if she were trying harder.’
With a Hearing Bridge site for the poverty-stricken, sufferers could make posts on their current status and their efforts toward finding a cure. “Couldn’t afford to list my books on RWA’s new app. Sigh. That might have really helped my career. Sent out an application for a day job I’d really love to get. Wish me luck!”
And loved ones could post notes of encouragement and understanding. That second-cousin might comment, ‘how brave you are; our hopes are with you.’ And best of all, they’d understand why you couldn’t make it to the family gathering or send a present for the new grand-baby. It’s a difficult time for you and you’re doing your best to cope with it and everyone is rooting for you.
I know a great many artists, musicians, writers and performers who live with poverty on a continuing or recurring basis and might find such a site a great benefit in keeping loved ones cognizant of their situations. If you have the coding skills and free time to make such a site a reality, please go for it.