Alone, in a strange city far from home, I am hungry. I have no car. I suspect public transportation doesn’t come to where I am. I have no idea how to summon a cab, nor what such an extravagance would cost. I suppose I could ask for help, but I do not want to appear unknowledgeable or feel vulnerable. The only choice I see for eating is to set out walking and find a place. There are no sidewalks, so I walk in the gutter.
Within five minutes, I see a Wendy’s restaurant, but I was hoping for something more sophisticated, less fast-food, so I turn left at the corner and keep walking, hopeful there will be something better around the next corner. In awhile, I see I have returned to where I started, having walked in a big circle. Now, I am back where I began, only hungrier. I have scouted to find local resources, and have come up empty-handed. I settle for Wendy’s and I eat alone. No one to talk with or laugh with over my fries. Just a blank wall in front of me.
I do not turn on the TV. Although the noise will distract me from my plight, I know nothing will change. I will still be alone; in a strange city, far from home and family.
Poverty is the extent to which an individual does without resources. In a very mild way, this experience has shown me a little of what it is like to be without resources I would normally take for granted. However, in truth, even in this experience, I am far from impoverished. At the same time that I am alone and hungry, I have plenty of money in my wallet. I am staying in a three-star hotel. I have no worries at all about being mistreated because of my race or gender or socio-economic status. I have access to hot water, a soft bed, people who defer to me because I am a guest. Perhaps most importantly, I have a lifetime of big and little successes, the experience of solving problems of all sizes and shapes.
Because of my security and comfort level, I am able to experience this minor inconvenience of being without a car as a blessing in disguise. As I walk, I notice the beautiful trees, noting that the varieties here are different from most of what we have back home. I remember my daughter needs leaves for an art project this week and I am delighted I can gather some leaves for her that we might not find at home.
Eating without distraction affords me the opportunity to focus on my food, to hold my sandwich with two hands, rather than trying to hold a steering wheel, or a cell phone, or a book with one hand while stuffing in my food with the other. I notice I am comfortable with my thoughts and my solitude. My creative ideas find an outlet and are able to develop.
How much do I miss by driving everywhere, always late and in a hurry, never able to stop and examine a branch for just the right leaf? My brain is a laundromat dryer, my thoughts the clothes tumbling over one another; tangling, intertwining, always moving around and around and around. Where can I untangle the thoughts? How can I give attention to each one, smoothing each, really looking at them? There is no space in my hasty driving, hasty eating, hasty movements, hasty life.
I notice other clothes in my dryer. Those must belong to someone else. “I have to.” “I should.” “It must be done now!” “I’ve got to hurry! Hurry!” “There’s no time!.” Wait! Apparently those clothes also belong to me. As more of those pushy gray clothes invade, the beautiful, colorful ones get covered up. The grays mute the bright items that I really love and the interesting items I would like to explore.
What begins as an epiphany about what poverty is ends as a realization of the role over-consumption plays in my life. Because I am biting off more than I can really chew, I must drive quickly and eat quickly and keep a breakneck pace going at all times. I recognize that now is the time to make changes.