Disparity Troubles Me

Journal: June 30, 2018

It’s been 18 years but I still find myself starting dates with 19… I don’t actually write it, but I think it, momentarily. Another last day of June, three quarters gone. Time is doing its protective, progressive, profound thing.


A friend had his car repossessed last week. It disappeared from the Salvation Army parking lot while he slept inside the building. He was taking a night off from swatting mosquitoes. That’s the trouble with sleeping in your car with the windows open, and you have to have them open or else you have to run the engine to keep cool. He left his clothes, his wallet, and pretty much everything else he had in the car because it was thought to be safer from theft than inside. He had been on the phone with the used car dealership that day, assuring them his payment was coming, and that he was getting the insurance coverage current. They had sounded understanding. But, of course, they have to sound that way. They don’t want to clue you in…

He spent the next few days convincing his mom and grandmother to go halves toward the insurance. His weekend gig at the church nearly completed the $300 payment due. Then he found out that he was being charged $300 for the towing to the repo lot. By this time the shirt and shorts he had been wearing night and day were getting a bit rank. He needed to get his clothes, wallet and maybe a few things he could pawn out of the car. Before I took him the 25 miles I wanted him to make sure he was going to the right place and that they weren’t going to be closed when we got there. He has a history of borderline cluelessness about details like that, in spite of being constantly in some kind of situational drama.

We got there before closing time. I let him go in to do his business with them. He came out and got in the car, silent, no stuff with him. They hadn’t told him it would cost $150 to get access to his car, for any reason. I went back in with him, but the lady was curt (mean), cold, unyielding and wouldn’t even talk to me. She said it was time to close and left us standing at the counter with no recourse.

This is not an unfamiliar kind of spot for this particular friend. I would accurately say it is a cyclical happening, with variations having to do with dwelling places, jobs, girlfriends. He’s pretty worn out with the struggle, tired of waiting for things to be different. His fantasy is to have his bills paid.

Last night while working on a mindless task I had the TV on – I don’t remember the channel. It caught my attention because a neighboring town was mentioned. Another business was cashing on the reality show craze. This was a company that built pools, amazing pools with rocks, grottos, beach entries, waterfalls. A doctor had hired them to redo his backyard pool into something you’d find at a high-end resort. It was on a $350,000 budget. It was really an interesting show, and the pool turned out to be gorgeous. The doc worked in an ER and did twelve to fourteen-hour shifts most of the time and just wanted a place to relax.

I don’t know how to feel, but I am bothered, troubled. I don’t have a solution to the disparity in lifestyles. Money is in there somewhere but it’s not the real problem. I have tried to throw money at the problem but I don’t have enough to make anything different for my friend for more than a day, if that long. I don’t begrudge the doctor what he is earning for his many years of study, his dedication to his job. He paid some deserving workmen to build that pool.

I pray for my friend and help when I can, and hope with him that things will change. But I’m troubled, just sayin’…

Being in Poverty: An Amazing Night

By God’s design, I am pretty sure, three young homeless men have come to live in our house. I don’t know why, but I am learning. 

It was an amazing happening, there in the dining room around the table. I never would have imagined it.

One of the young men had come in after a day of work very depressed and anxious. He had driven Uber until 3:30 am that morning,  had fallen asleep and nearly missed his wake up alarm for his day job. He was mentally depleted and close to having an asthma attack. I tried to get him to calm down and eat something, go to bed. He kept talking and rehearsing his dilemma.

The two other guys arrived about that time and heard what was going on. They jumped in with their own brand of cheerleading/encouragement. Words, stories, lots of “bro this” and “bro that”, and finally A, who hadn’t really told me much about his feelings about God or faith, said to D, “Bro, do you want to pray about it?”

“Yes, I pray” D said. He wasn’t expecting it to happen right at that moment, but A walked over, sat down and took his hand. J took another side of the table. There was one side left so I sat down and joined them. J started praying, talking to God very sincerely for a good five minutes. Tears were coming down D’s cheeks when the prayer was done.

They talked some more, to the point where there was something to laugh about. I could tell D was feeling better. They were all having something to eat. J was pointing out that all three of them had hard things in their stories, but they were still there in spite of those things and that they were being given another chance. Why not take it? They all had children to live for and people who would be devastated if they gave up.

I felt so included in their story, and so a part of their camaraderie. I said to them, “We are all adults here, and even though I am much older than you, I don’t mind if you call me Shirley instead of Miss Shirley.” There were looks of disbelief on three faces.

“But that’s a sign of respect, and if my Mama knew I called you anything but Miss Shirley I’d be in trouble no matter what my age!” one of them said. The consensus was that they were going to call me what they were used to calling me and it was going to be Miss Shirley.

That got them talking about how they each had not wanted to stay with us in our home – just because it had seemed so uncomfortable at first. But the misery of living in their cars had been great enough to drive them to accept. I realized how uncommon it is to move into a stranger’s house, and especially a stranger from another racial background. This is not something that very many of us ever do.

What a gift I was given, to listen to their unguarded conversation about their life, their culture, and their feelings. I don’t get this kind of experience very often and I’m giving God the credit for it. It was pretty amazing, just sayin’…