Our house, pre-leaving that other life, was where everyone gathered for all holidays. All.
For the past oh-so-many-seasons, my daughter's home has been that gathering place. I like it for tons of reasons, not least because I can arrive and leave as I wish. Last year my intention was to volunteer for our city's free Thanksgiving meal. That fell through when they did not need me and I stayed home and it was wonderful. No driving. No guests. Nothing except staying home and lounging around. I was especially busy that time last year and it was nice.
This year I decided on the community meal again, but only as an eater. No volunteering all day. When I got there I saw for myself that they have more than enough volunteer help.
It was interesting because I am usually on the side of the field of the helpers and to be, for all intents, a recipient was very interesting. The meal was excellent, much better than most folk had for their own family and friends.
Volunteers at any place can be, perhaps often, the most interesting aspect. Some are nice, but way too many of them can be at the best, condescending, and at the worst petty and mean. I have seen this happen many times during the decades I have been volunteering.
I was kind of shocked to have it happen to me as soon as I entered the building. I watched and saw how the admission lines were set up and how they worked. I came to the end of one of the two lines and waited. When I was the second next in line, the woman working at that table, looked up at me. I smiled at her and she said something rude to me. I continued to smile and when it was my turn to sign in, I asked her what she had said to me. She got a little nervous and said that she had not said anything. As I was writing my name, I replied that I was just checking, because I had heard what she said and apologized for having done something wrong whilst waiting in line. She was flustered, and maybe thought she was dealing with one of the more crazy and possibly dangerous homeless people.
I am feeling very judgmental about this, and I would very much like to get over myself at this slight. I am comfortable working with all kinds of people and it would be in my own best interest to pull up my big girl panties and get over myself. Sigh.
Being treated unkindly is not the end of the world. For anyone. And, I am as certain as I am of anything that she came there to do something nice, to do good. I have not the slightest doubt of that. The problem is that she also came with ideas, notions and beliefs about the people who would be coming to the meal, and she felt inclined to chide me and keep me in my place. I could be wrong, but I very well might not be. I would like to be wrong. This could be just an aspect of her regular behaviors and talks like that to everyone.
Perhaps she has only that one, single story about the kind of people who might find themselves in need of a meal on a holiday, or any other day where food insecurity might rear its ugly and ferocious head. You know what a single story or belief is. Everyone has them, even me. I used to believe that all people who used, and mostly abused substances, illegal or otherwise, were similar. As the oldest of eleven siblings, ten of us began with alcohol and marijuana and quickly moved on to other addictions. And, each of them was stunningly similar in their addictive lives as they could be. I thought that all people with addictive behaviors were like or close to my siblings, a narrow and not helpful belief. I am smarter about that now.
Me? I fall into my sad family in my own way. My drug of choice is food. Another story, but it illustrates how easily we find and cling to just the one story. And, it happens in all kinds of ways.
And, despite knowing that there are always differences between individuals,
we really do stick with that one story.
Until we know better.
Or, maybe not.
We think we know about the Ebola victims in African countries. Ebola victims and survivors came to contract that illness in ways unique to each of them, and their life and living conditions and lifestyles are just as unique. Same thing goes for people and populations that live in countries and situations and circumstances different from our own. Heck, look at what happened here when infected people landed on our own shores.
Whilst you might believe...or hope...that most people now understand how HIV/Aids transmits and that no one still believes that there is a good/not personally responsible way to get these viruses (i.e. via blood transfusion or by being an innocent crime victim) and a bad/personally responsible way to contract them (i.e. lifestyle), the truth is that many people continue to hold those notions. Blaming people for their illnesses, just like we do with those who develop cancer.
We think we know about poor people and how they got that way. Same process.
Bad money management.
Buying expensive things.
Not living within their means.
Too lazy to get a decent job.
Too lazy to get any job.
Entitled; want needs filled without doing their part.
Any of this sound familiar? Anyone you know? Anyone you are? This kind of cultural, ethnic and economic prejudice is safely tucked away in every single one of us.
I know it exists because I have always been able to see it in myself. I am a good person. My best guess is that the majority of people who grasp their single story are good people, too. And, when this stuff rears that energetic head, we need to pay attention and make the changes in the way that we view anyone who is different from ourselves, which, to be honest, is pretty much anyone else.
We cling to those who have similar lives and life practices to ours. Most people hang with their economic and cultural peers. We often choose to ignore or distrust people outside our group. Sometimes we go to the extreme of demonizing them, denying advantages that we take for granted. Sometimes we persecute them, a thing that has happened concerning the Affordable Care Act.
And, not to leave anyone out of the whole messy process, this not only trickles down to those less advantaged than ourselves, it trickles and steams upwards to those who benefit from more resources than we have.
An equal opportunity prejudice.
When that volunteer dismissed me as a lesser person, a less-deserving person than herself, she shared her one, single story with me. I recognized it immediately and found a source of kindness and sympathy for her. Had it been possible for me to have a gentle conversation about this, without embarrassing or shaming her, I might have looked for an opportunity to talk to someone about what happened, without identifying her, which is important because it happened several more times once I was inside and eating.
It happened to me one more time, but I noticed that kind of kindly condescension happening to other people at my table and two tables next to us. It was clear that the other people I witnessed on being on the receiving end of that kind of exchange were more accustomed to being in that position than I was, am. Seeing that stoicism took me by surprise.
What that says about me is that I am more obtuse than I could have believed. I have the training and certifications to prove that I am a caring, insightful and intuitive and supportive person, somewhat dedicated to be available to other people, and whilst I might have earned access to a few more hard won chapters than I had years ago, it is equally clear that I really do have a couple of those one, single stories.
I need to let them go. I will never be everything I want to be , nor will I be able to do the deep work that my heart longs to perform, but after this morning, I am closer to learning more than single stories about a great many things.
To think that I had to be on the receiving end of that comment in order to learn all of this is, well, it is a bit shame inducing. However, I will be using that shame and embarrassment to broaden my view and will improve my ability to see all of the stories.
Good and nice people, excellent intentions and great work, that is what I am taking away from today's meal.
It is important to admit that I have much greater resources than many of the people there today, both guests and volunteers and providers. So, it slightly comforts me to share that I donated twenty dollars for my meal today.