God of the worn and tattered

All of your people matter

Give us more than words to speak

‘Cause we are hearts and arms that reach

And Love climbs up and down the human ladder

There are three new women in my life that I can’t get off of my heart.  They are loving and kind and beautiful.  The story of how our paths first crossed is an interesting one, involving my wife, a school project that she was not looking forward to, and an introduction by a mutual friend from another country.

It’s never been tempting to say that we met by chance.

My friends are actually a happy, loving family: a mother and her two precious daughters.  The mom has endured some pretty tough circumstances, but her heart has remained soft and compassionate.  Her daughters, 3 and 5, are supernova-energy-balls wrapped up in tiny human bodies with cute little human faces.  They are curious and loving.  It is incredible to spend time with them, hearing about what they did that day and what they want to do tomorrow, deciding what kind of cake they want on their birthday and which Disney or NickJr character is currently the focus of their attention (FYI: it’s Dora).

It’s one of those friendships where you have to be strategic about visiting.  Kristy and I have to been keenly aware of what sort of appointments are bookending these visits, because once the conversation gets rolling time morphs and stretches, shrinks and reconfigures until we’ve missed class or are late for work.  Yet somehow it’s still worth it.

To be fair, one of the reasons why we have to watch our time is because time is far less of a concern for this family.  Their days are much more loosely organized.  They get up, and get some breakfast at no set time.  From then on it’s pretty laid back until dinner, and pretty laid back again until some indeterminate bedtime.  There is no job to interfere with their daily plans.  It’s free and easy.

Except, it’s not free and it’s significantly difficult.

You see my friends live in abject poverty, at least by American standards.  Now they’re fighting circumstances, consequences, and systemic shortcomings in a effort to find a better way.  The story of how they got her is heart-breaking and filled with abuse and pain.  What is even more depressing for me as their friend is to have to stand beside them and watch as with every positive step they take some mysterious force deals them another blow.

I know how it is.  Middle-classers can say with relative ease that “They’re just dealing with the consequences of their choices,” or “Let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps… America is land of opportunity.”  Few, if any, of their choices landed them where they are.  Pulling themselves up by their bootstraps is only possible if they could afford to buy boots instead of being forced to wear the same pair of $5 Old Navy flip flops that the mother has owned since the first day we met.

Systems have failed her.  Forms that should have been filed in duplicate were accidentally filed in triplicate at some head office and so this mother went without any sure way of providing food because she was suspected of trying to game the system.  Social workers have advised her to stand in line for three hours at facilities that have never claimed to be able to meet any of her needs.  State child care workers have tried to enforce what can only be described as their own petty preferences instead of prescribed policy.

Yet, this family understand that it’s just another day with another adversity to overcome.

I see her and her situation.  I hear her trying to figure out a way to get winter coats for her kids, and who of her friends can help provide meals for them until her food stamps are reinstated (after being mistakingly cut off).  I see her kids attempting to process what it means for a woman to have a loving husband.

More than this I see her desperately trying to make life better for her kids, finding a way out of her dangerous neighborhood, applying at every business that might hire a woman with less than a high-school education while looking for ways to achieve her GED.  I hear the fear in her voice as she talks about what it could mean when the father of her children gets released from prison.

All this happening in the shadow cast by some meaningless skyscrapers where meaningless finances are traded and bought and sold every day for meaningless profit and meaningless bonuses.

Take away everything that I’ve just described about this family.  The government assistance.  The prison terms.  The questionable practices by social workers.  The lack of food.   The high-school drop-out. The abuse.  The five dollar flip-flops.

Laid bare as a generic mother with two generic children, you and I would have no trouble whatsoever in saying that these people have worth and are deserving of opportunities and some basic necessities.  It’s only as we pile on circumstances that we begin to doubt and question and wonder if she should be left to deal with the bed that she has made.  It’s a sorry state of affairs but I’m glad we keep her all but locked away in public housing where I don’t have to deal with it.

By God, this woman still matters.  She is worn and tattered, but she still matters.

And there are millions like them.  And there are $millions frivolously wasted and metaphorically burned each day simply because it’s mine.  What are we doing?  More appropriately, perhaps, what are we not doing?

Give us more than words to speak

‘Cause we are hearts and arms that reach

And Love climbs up and down the human ladder