To be poorPosted: November 26, 2013
It’s been awhile since I’ve been poor but once you’ve used a food bank you never really relax (because you know just how easy it is to find yourself there). But after reading this post the other day I can smell the welfare office like it was yesterday. It wasn’t just the smell of stale brown bag lunches and baby spit up either – it was the smell of hopelessness and defeat.
You see, when I was much younger I made a decision that many people thought was the wrong one. I will be forever grateful that I made that decision but it put me – us – on a journey of poverty that took many years to climb out from.
Blogger Linda Tirado’s piece on poverty talks about the hopelessness and absolute exhaustion associated with it, and she’s right. Sitting in that welfare office twenty years ago, with its bullet proof glass, stern clerks and wailing babies, was one of the lowest points of my life. You wait for your name to be called yet cringe when it is – that simple act of someone saying your name out loud in a welfare office always felt aggressive. Each month I’d become more and more beaten down by being so fucking poor that I couldn’t ever see the way out. Each day was an exercise in emotional survival.
Despair was always stalking me. I didn’t know how I’d get us out of this. Hell, I didn’t even know how I was going to pay the phone bill. But I couldn’t give up, no matter how much I wanted to sometimes.
But I got lucky and did find my way out. I worked my ass off – got sick a few times in the process – and just kept going. I managed to finish a degree just over a decade ago and I cried while waiting to walk across the dais to collect my diploma from the university president. “Well done,” she whispered in my ear.
I didn’t do it alone. Many people – people I will never meet – helped me. The unknown people who made it public policy in BC in the 90s to cover daycare costs while single parents were in school. The people who helped me navigate the financial aid system. The men and women who dropped off Christmas hampers each year. The professors who encouraged me to keep going. My kids who gave me love, and hope.
Read Tirado’s story. It’s important.