Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It Could Have Been Me

This... this is why I do what I do. 
I was driving to my grandparents and saw a young woman standing on the corner holding a sign. I drove right past her, like I usually do since most people just don’t want the type of help I can offer (they just want money for sitting on a corner). But something told me to go back. And after some internal arguing, I did.

I got out of my car and joined her on the corner. I could read her sign clearly now “Widow with children. We are short on rent and utilities. Any help would be great.”
As you can imagine… the word widow caught my attention. I could have easily been her.

First I informed her I worked for United Way (so I wasn’t just some random creepy person asking probing questions) and then began assessing her situation. Did she have a shut off notice? An eviction notice? What had she already done? Where did she live? Did they have food? And how did she ended up in this situation…

Her husband of ten years committed suicide a year and a half ago. She had 2 little girls. The youngest is just now in kindergarten. Although she gets SSI, the income is small because her husband had worked very little during the ten years. His grief over his inability to keep a job combined with mental illness led to the choice he made to take his own life. She lived right down the street and worked at the McDonald’s across the street because it was close enough to walk. She rented from a private owner, who refused to give her an eviction notice so she could get help…he would simply evict her. He also kept all the utilities in his name so that she couldn’t go get utility assistance either. She had also been sick for 2 ½ weeks, which meant she missed that much pay “It’s my own fault.” She said, “I should have gone to the doctor earlier. But I didn’t, because I couldn’t afford it. It would have been cheaper than this thought.” She felt he was overcharging her on the utilities, since she had quite suddenly found herself $1600 behind on both.

She had been able to pull together $1000, and in desperation had placed herself on the street corner, hoping to fill in the gap so they wouldn’t become homeless. The landlord had given her until today to come up with the money. She had called DWS and Community Action, but without an eviction notice, I’m sure you know what the answer was. She had applied for medical and foodstamps. I asked her if she had heard of 2-1-1. She grabbed a pink marker out of her bag and wrote the number on the back of her sign. It was Utah County, so I gave her the name of someone I knew would take care of her, and then gave her a list of what to ask about; ask about getting on the list for housing assistance, ask about HEAT emergency assistance, ask about counseling, ask about food, ask about rent deposit assistance (she had decided staying in her current situation was a bad idea and really wanted to get out.) And I told her the guidelines for each of those programs, and the best things to say to get what she needed. She jotted all of this down.

At the end of the conversation, I gave her some money and then looked in her eyes. “I am a widow. I have been for eight years. It will get better. I remember being where you are right now. I promise it will get better.”

Her eyes brimmed with tears. “Thank you.” 
I could have been her. I never found myself on a street corner asking for help to sustain my children… but if that would have been my option, I would have. Plus, I lived in the country at that time. We didn’t have corners to stand on. It was like looking back at myself… seeing me in her. And I truly hope, she could see some hope in what she perceived of me… a well-dressed, nice car, actual cash in her wallet woman who had  been where she was.
I am so grateful for my life... for my full, rich, very blessed life.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014


The CarouselRainer Maria Rilke

For a little while in a roof's shade,
Brightly painted horses turn in a band.
They have all been taken from a land
That hesitates before it fades.

A pinching harness keeps them bound,
But all have courage in their eyes,
A crimson lion terrifies,
And now the china elephant comes 'round.

Just as in the woods there's a buck,
Except that it's saddled and carries
A little blue girl all buckled up.

And on the lion rides in white a young
Boy and holds on with a small warm hand
As the animal shows his teeth and tongue.

And now the china elephant comes 'round.

Bright young ladies are also there,
Almost too old for these wooden mounds,
In the middle of the leaps and bounds,
They look up, around, at us, anywhere.

And now the china elephant comes 'round.

And so it goes--faster, hastening its end,
It circles and it turns and has no aim,
A red, a green, a grey sent around,
A small inchoate outline of a face,
And sometimes we see a smile triumphant
And bless'd that sparkles and is spent
On this blind and breathless game...