When I sat down to dinner tonight I actually took a moment to look around my kitchen, which has a lot of open air shelves around it, and take stock of all the food we have hanging around our house. When I added it up in my head, along with all of the other food we have in the cabinets that do have doors I did a quick estimation and discovered that if I still had running water I could feed our family for almost three months on what I have in our cabinets right at this moment. Then I recalled how when Kitten asked me what I wanted for dinner I thought to myself, "do we even have anything in the house to eat?" and I felt a terrible sense of shame wash over me.
I don't make much a secret of the fact that when I was young and still living in my parents home, we didn't have a whole lot. For whatever reason (and I honestly don't know what it is) we never seemed to have enough to make ends meet. We were certainly lower middle class at best. I remember clothes, until I was in high school, came from my great aunt, my grandmother and at Christmas and Easter. When I was older and I had a job, I bought from thrift stores. We received Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter baskets from churches and charities and I remember them as being a big part of the excitement of the holidays for me, outside of our family gatherings. I don't know exactly to what extent my extended family helped to support us. I have a heavy suspicion that most of my activity fees were paid for by my grandparents.
Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstance, we didn't have a lot. Now, I think about how much I do have and how often I truly take it for granted. I know I do. I mean, I thank Kitten frequently for the hard work she does, and Oscelot too, to make sure that we have food and shelter. We have a decent vehicle. We are all well clothed and well cared for. We get to take trips to fun places on occasion, when we save for it, and they are always special times for us. But on a day to day basis I think sometimes I forget how well off I really am.
Its easy, I suppose. We don't live on an upscale side of town. Our house is probably (okay, is) a little cramped. Its not new, in fact, its about a hundred years old. Our truck isn't fancy, its got a lot of mileage on it. We don't eat out all the time. Whenever its time to get new clothes, we still hit the thrift stores first. Of course, we like the thrift stores...it might be ingrained in all of us by now. Whenever our computer broke down earlier this year and we had to buy a new one, Kitten was genuinely distressed and when the coffee pot (a nice one, one of our few true indulgences) followed shortly after, I remember how upset Kitten was that we were going to drop another 100 bucks for a pot that would probably only last another five years or so.
Still, we don't live paycheck to paycheck. We have a savings account. A couple of them, actually, and we are planning to have more set by in the future. We never want for food. We always have clothes. Our bills are paid on time and we never have to worry about having a roof over our heads or utilities or any other the other things that plagued me when I was younger. In fact, beautiful blessing that it is, for the first time since I was 15 I am voluntarily unemployed and we are still doing okay. We cut back here and there, but we still make it fine.
I say this because I notice lately (and this was brought to my attention by a dear friend of mine) that an alarming amount of the people I know seem really unaware of how lucky they truly are. They are almost always complaining about money and it seems to me that they don't know how good they have it. It frustrates me. I'm not saying I could step into their circumstances and do any better...but I think sometimes they could do better for themselves. I grow tired of people I know complaining they don't have enough money to pay bills when they've just bought a house, or a brand new car (when they could have gotten two decent used ones for the price). I get angry when I have friends bemoaning the fact they can't go do such and such or join in a big vacation because they just spent a ton of money on some other frivolous thing and now they have to buckle down and take care of necessity. To me, you take care of the needs first, and the wants second.
The sheer extravagance of some people I know blows my mind. They complain when they don't get to eat name brands from the store, or when they have to order less than they might want when they go out to dinner because filet mignon is getting pricey. People who eat out every day for lunch and complain when they have to cut back on other things. I think to myself, "pack a lunch."
I know it sounds judgmental But you're talking to a person who grew up thinking desert (which we have about once a week in my home now, because we're spoiled) was for holidays, birthdays and special occasions. When I was a child The Olive Garden was a seriously fancy place to eat- you dressed up. I learned, both from my mom and my grandparents, how to feed a family a decent meal for next to nothing. Take Lunchables- those decadent schoolday lunch treats- for what one of those costs, to this day I can feed my family a good dinner. And a healthy one. Dinner at McDonalds? I can feed my family for that too. In fact, most coven nights, my goal is to feed my entire coven and well for about $2 a person. Most the time, I come in well under the count. So to me, when someone I know is complaining they don't have any money for food, I think "let me show you how much you can really get for that twenty bucks."
I'm not saying I don't have friends who are in real need. I do. I admire them all the time, because they are making the best of their circumstances and working hard to better their lives. They (as a general rule) don't complain and don't fuss. They do the best with what they have and they never ask for help. But a lot of the time, I think of all the days I spent as a child and in my first year on my own. I think of how I could make $5 turn into dinner for a week (no matter how boring it might get!) and how I knew the feeling, all that time ago, of being hungry, or of worrying there wouldn't be a roof over my head. I remember not having a roof over my head and wondering how the hell I was going to make it better for me. I remember wearing clothes that didn't fit or that were threadbare. I remember making do when there was nothing to be done about it. I think of all the times I passed up things I wanted because I knew I was choosing between that fun thing and helping my family put food on the table. And I think to myself that maybe some of the people I know would have benefited from that experience. The knowing what it is like to really, truly want. To be without.
I would never wish it on anyone I know, don't get me wrong. But sometimes I want to scream when I have a friend who says "Oh yeah, Twinkies were a real treat in my house too. We weren't all that well off growing up either. We were poor too," as we drive away from the quarter million dollar home they grew up in. I hate when someone I know complains about how old their car is when it was manufactured within the last five years. The truck we drive was made when I was a sophomore in high school. The car we have (currently waiting for permanently warm weather so we can fix an oil leak) was made the year I was born. People who tell me they never went anywhere fun, but then tell me all about their childhood trips to New York and Hawaii and Europe, irritate the hell out of me.
Maybe I need to work more on my sense of compassion. Maybe if I grew up with more I would feel deprived too. But I don't. I can't. There's some part of me, always, thinking of the thrill I felt when I got my very own brand new Barbie doll from a Christmas basket and I didn't even have time to be upset about the fact she was a brunette and not a blonde because I was already plotting in my head how I could get scrap fabric from my grandma to make her a nice new dress. There's some part of me that remembers the terror of high school when the groups I was involved in (paid for, by the way, by my nearly full time after school job) would adopt a family from a charity around town and I was just praying to God it wasn't mine, because I knew I wouldn't want to face the pity and scorn of my classmates. There's a part of me that remembers that I would save my lunch money or my clothes money when they did this, and I would go without because I wanted to contribute too, and there was something inside me that had to believe that there was someone out there I could help- even if it wasn't myself. It is this person, the one who knew hungry and homeless and hopeless, that the people I knew wakes up inside me. There is a part of her that screams aloud when I hear them speak, and I listen to her as she tells me all she could be doing with the money they are wasting, to keep her family fed and sheltered.
Hearing her, remembering my own shame and fear, makes me angry. It makes me angry with them. And it makes me angry with myself, because I experience every day a life I didn't have when I was growing up. I wake up, every day, knowing I will be able to eat. That I will be warm. That I will be safe and comfortable. I wake up to love and hope and a future that, while was not what I dreamed of then, is far more than I could ever have hoped for or deserved, had I known what to ask for in my ignorance.
Tonight I am aware of my own hope that I never allow myself to fall into that complacency again. To forget those things is a step to losing what I have- not just the physical, but the emotional fortitude and strength that it took to bring me to this place where I can look back and say, Thank God, I will never feel that way again.