“If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: “It’s gonna go wrong.” Or “She’s going to hurt me.” Or,”I’ve had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore . . .” Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
— Ray Bradbury
THERE IS a valid argument AND unfortunate reason for today’s word. And there are other words that carry as much weight on a day like today. Today’s word is personal to me. Before I describe the nature of MY embarrassment, I feel first the need to identify the definition and usage of the word.
Today my embarrassmentis because of when I think about hunger, particularly today, I feel shame and embarrassment.
I received an email overnight from the www.threesquare.org volunteer coordinator. It starts:
“To our wonderful Three Square volunteers celebrating a birthday in November!!! Sending our best wishes to all!” “All of us at Three Square want to wish you a very happy birthday!!!” “May your special day be filled with all of your favorite wishes.” And finally came the salutation “Happy Birthday from the Three Square Team.”
No, today is not my birthday (hatch day)… Mine falls on the last day of the month… and I don’t think the email was about me.
The problem started for me when I got yet another email from www.threesquare.org. My email filtering placed both messages right next to each other in my inbox describing the effect SNAP benefit cuts will have on families… starting TODAY.
This email was telling me what today means for all of the people who I have assisted as a volunteer to complete SNAP (food stamp) applications. Less food for the invisible face of hunger. It’s about putting an additional burden on ordinary people. An additional burden on part and full-time employees of Walmart and McDonalds. Two of the largest recipients of corporate welfare. Both of them suggesting and assisting their employees in getting help with food… with SNAP (food stamps) instead of paying them a living wage. Yes, the burden on the back of the low income full-time employee being assisted by their employer in getting assistance with government money. My money… Your money. Corporate welfare. I repeat… Walmart and McDonalds. I’m sure there are other I can’t think of who should share the shame of the board of directors of these monsters. This does not include the theft of service from the medicaid system by these corporations.
In the case of McDonalds, they throw away a lot of food. Prepared food after “X” number of minutes on/in the line is thrown into the dumpster. This food could be frozen and donated. There is no liability in doing this for the corporation. They are held harmless with food donations. Walmart on the other hand DOES donate, but my feeling is that their donations are a publicity stunt. That money should go to employees, better yet, they operate supercenters… why aren’t they qualifying their employees in the same manner I do before I assist with applications for food assistance??? Why aren’t they providing food for their own employees when there is so much right there in the store???
I’m embarrassed as an American and a human being by first of all, allowing hunger and secondly putting the burden of a partisan budget fight on the back of the under-employed, unemployed… CHILDREN, homeless. I reject the wing-nut image of the SNAP recipient. It’s not the true face of hunger.
I see the true face of hunger. Veterans, some of them homeless. My biggest problem is children. I have problem looking at children and seeing them suffer. I want to help them because no one helped me. I want to make a difference.
The following paragraph was borrowed from the www.threesquare.org website:
“Hungry does not mean homeless. It may surprise you to learn that, every day, working parents in Southern Nevada face an unthinkable choice between feeding their families and paying the bills. Three Square was founded to help people like this get the food their families need to survive so that they can focus on other things – like getting back on their feet.
One in six households in Nevada struggle with hunger
57% of children in the Clark County School District receive free and reduced-price meals
Nearly 40,000 children under the age of 18 are served each month by Three Square’s Agency Partners”
My volunteering at Three Square started in a warehouse, preparing weekend packs of food for children who may only receive food from school. Their food is easy… either prepared or given with the ability to prepare it without supervision, since many of these children have no supervision at home. This volunteering was at two partner food bank agencies with Catholic Charities and these food bags being distributed to children at school on Friday before they leave for the weekend. Let’s not talk about the summer, when there is no school. The most rewarding time of the year for me was preparing holiday food baskets/boxes/crates. I could be in a warehouse or a kitchen filling a box with fresh fruit and vegetables, turkeys, ham and fixings with books, toys and other things for children. Each box size based on size of family. While not directly exposed to these people in need. I saw their face when I would bring out a box and retreat into the back to prepare more without having to interact directly with these people. It was always just too difficult for me. My emotions take hold ofme when talking of pain and helplessness and hunger.
Now I work on the phone, whenever I can at the Three Square main office phone bank. I used to hide, not feeling the ability to listen or help people without getting emotional while seeing, hearing and feeling their pain, particularly when children and military veterans are involved. Contrary to the vocal minority who speaks ill of people in need, these people feel a sense of failure and I wish I had the means to do more. I used to.
As embarrassed and ashamed as I may feel about hunger, I can only imagine the thoughts of these people… hungry Americans, yes, Americans, (not undocumented foreigners) who may never have had to ask for help before in their life. That feeling of failure. Not being able to feed yourself or your family. Well, being on the phone, it’s not imaginary anymore. I hear it with my own ears and it hurts me.
The last time I was on the phone, completing SNAP applications an incoming call came from a single veteran who was living in a weekly rental across the street from Nellis Air Force Base. Home from deployment four months prior. Dropped at Nellis and left to fend for himself. Debilitating PTSD… worse than mine. Hearing this warrior hero speak to me with voice crackling describing his situation. Unable to work. No substance abuse. Benefits exhausted.
The cell phone he called in on had three days before disconnect. His eviction from the weekly one day away. A veteran offered no help. Thrown away after he was used up by our own government. I was confused on how to complete his application because on that day, he had some place to stay. An address. The next day he would not. I had to be told to classify him as homeless and have his application expedited. This application was like being stabbed in the back. One of the first questions we ask on the phone… “are you a veteran?” No transportation. Not enough money in his pocket for bus fare to come to the main food bank. Not even knowing if the address would be valid in the one or two days it takes for the application to reach him for his signature and other personally identifiable information we don’t ask on the phone, for example social security number.
I felt as helpless as this veteran… and for all practical purposes, this homeless veteran could be anybody. I did something on that day that I wasn’t supposed to do. It’s against the rules. I wrote his name, address and phone number on a piece of paper and when my shift on the phone was complete, I got on my motorcycle took a picture, not knowing if it would be the last time I could force myself to absorb pain on the phone. It was August 13.
Instead of heading home, which was my intent, because this was a VERY hot day… I took that piece of paper out of my pocket and entered the address on my GPS. I stopped at the first bus pass vending machine I could find and purchased a 24 hour bus pass. I then stopped at Albertsons and purchased a large turkey sub. Grabbed as many condiments that seemed reasonable and picked up a food gift card and put $10 on it. I followed the sweet female voice of google maps to the motel where this soon to be homeless veteran was staying… for one more night. I parked. I got off the bike. I left all my gear on. Took off my backpack and grabbed the albertsons bag with the goods in it. My helmet was still on. It was very, very hot. I knocked on the door. This hero answered the door. I introduced myself as the person who had just spent more than two hours on the phone with him trying to find help for him from veteran’s village and other local and veteran agencies. That look of embarrassment was on his face. There was next to nothing in the hotel room. Probably all that he had with him when he was dumped at Nellis. I opened my face shield about two inches. Enough that he could hear me, but not see my face or the fact that I was crying. Told him I brought a few things for him, asked him to use the bus pass the next day to make his first stop the food bank for a meal. I asked him not to reveal what I had just done. I turned around and left. Went back to my bike and rode home. THIS is the face of hunger. Chances are his food stamp (SNAP) benefit could/would be as little as $16/month… On that day in August, BUT NOT TODAY!!! As of today it’s less. I have no idea what happened to this hero and no way to find out. That was the last time I went tot he phone bank at the food bank to volunteer. Firs I need a week or two break and then I had the pulmonary embolism… time flies. It’s that ime of the year and I think I may go back to Thanksgiving and Christmas food boxes/crates because there is less emotion involved.
Before I moved to Las Vegas I used to go to the post office in Atlantic City, NJ before holidays and they had a table setup where you could read letters to santa with christmas requests. I would scour the pile looking for letters from children who ask for nothing for themselves. They ask for others. A brother, a neighbor, a parent. I would choose these letters. Answer the wish for another or others as requested from santa and then providing gifts for these children even though it was not requested directly. They wanted nothing for themselves. This was as close as I could get to the pain of poverty… the pain of children. The pain of my own childhood that was still hidden inside of me and sealed tight/classified.
My first Christmas in Las Vegas was 1998. I was asked what I wanted for Christmas and I replied: peace, love and happiness. It’s all I ever asked for. I called the main post office, explained what I had always done in Atlantic City and was told, we don’t allow this in Las Vegas. We turn letters to Santa over to local non government organizations (NGO’s). I asked for a phone number and was provided one.
I settled on helping a family of five… working poor (in 1998) with the mother in a wheel chair, unable to work herself because of being hit by a car and a slow recovery from a back injury. I dropped about $500 in goods from Sam’s Club. It’s all I wanted for Christmas. Peace, Love and happiness and some food for others. Working boots for the breadwinner. A winter coat for the bread winner. There were no Christmas decorations in this house but a one foot tall tree on a table. It was too painful to see a family in this situation so I decided I can’t repeat this. So the following year I tried something different.
I went to the Salvation Army tree at the Boulevard Mall and selected 12 children who had posted christmas wishes on little christmas tree ornaments, with shoe and clothing sizes and age. This became overwhelming and I had to use my most trusted lieutenant at the time to help me with my task (Jennifer R.) who went to walmart with me and helped me organize so much stuff for so many children. This was a little easier because I didn’t have to look in faces. I only dropped off bags labeled for each child. But again… overwhelming when working 12-18 hours a day.
Most all of my friends or people need nothing. They have everything they need. So, I found myself sending greeting cards saying, your Christmas Gift went to this person or that person. Like my people needed a box of chocolate from me.
After my first year here, I started drawing a salary and went from employee to business partner. Sweat equity for working a year with no salary and showing how I work and built the business. I could afford more since I was no longer living out of my savings as I had done the first year in Las Vegas.
That year, the third Christmas in Las Vegas I decided on the Make-A-Wish Foundation www.wish.org. I called, introduced myself and said I wanted to donate, but I wanted to know the difference between donating to a wish and granting a wish. What was the average cost to grant a complete wish. It was so much easier to just write a check. I decided i wanted to grant wishes. Anonymously.
The first wish was a computer, peripherals and accessories for a teen with brain cancer. $2400. I thought that would be easy. Little did I know, while I am at compUSA in Henderson, I would be at the customer service desk for a special order pickup and there was this small group of people in front of me exchanging a voucher for a cart full of goodies that any teen would envy. It was the teen that I wrote the check for. Here I thought I would be able to escape the emotion of giving and I was embedded in the middle of it. I walked and left the store… went back the following day for my pickup. I just couldn’t stand there. I saw the make-a-wish voucher, I saw the young man, shaved head with very large scars. I just had to leave. The next wish was for a family of four to take a trip to disneyland before the loss of a child to terminal illness. I knew it would be easier this way. The make-a-wish wish’s were granted until 2007, when I had to umm… stop writing those big checks.
After this, all I could give was my time. It’s very rewarding. I give time in many ways and I know that what I do helps a lot of people. Between the food bank(s) and being on the phone, I think my donation(s) have more meaning. Partnering with another NGO providing guidance for people living with chronic illness. How to live a healthier and rewarding life. Learning all over again, how to take ownership of your own life and health when you feel you can’t.
My shame, my embarrassment is because with all we have, all that we throw away, no one should go hungry.
As I sit here with a kitchen full of healthy organic food and commodity, expensive organic coffee being sipped at this very moment, I know I’m not in need. I can buy my own more expensive foods and not have to worry (as much) about a budget or putting gas in the motorcycle. But I know there are many who can’t.
Shame on those who would take from the poor to give to the rich. This embarrasses me to no end. It’s a disgrace and brings shame to my heart to know these people are Americans too.
“If you understand others you are smart.
If you understand yourself you are illuminated.
If you overcome others you are powerful.
If you overcome yourself you have strength.
If you know how to be satisfied you are rich.
If you can act with vigor, you have a will.
If you don’t lose your objectives you can be long-lasting.
If you die without loss, you are eternal.”
? Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
“Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose…
…Describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember. If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.”
? Rainer Maria Rilke
“Happiness doesn’t lie in conspicuous consumption and the relentless amassing of useless crap. Happiness lies in the person sitting beside you and your ability to talk to them. Happiness is clear-headed human interaction and empathy. Happiness is home. And home is not a house-home is a mythological conceit. It is a state of mind. A place of communion and unconditional love. It is where, when you cross its threshold, you finally feel at peace.”
? Dennis Lehane
“For everything in this journey of life we are on, there is a right wing and a left wing: for the wing of love there is anger; for the wing of destiny there is fear; for the wing of pain there is healing; for the wing of hurt there is forgiveness; for the wing of pride there is humility; for the wing of giving there is taking; for the wing of tears there is joy; for the wing of rejection there is acceptance; for the wing of judgment there is grace; for the wing of honor there is shame; for the wing of letting go there is the wing of keeping. We can only fly with two wings and two wings can only stay in the air if there is a balance. Two beautiful wings is perfection. There is a generation of people who idealize perfection as the existence of only one of these wings every time. But I see that a bird with one wing is imperfect. An angel with one wing is imperfect. A butterfly with one wing is dead. So this generation of people strive to always cut off the other wing in the hopes of embodying their ideal of perfection, and in doing so, have created a crippled race.” ? C. JoyBell C.
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career
it is a real possession in the
changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you
to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham,
drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.”
? Max EhrmannThe Desiderata of Happiness
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God [buddha] is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God [buddha] speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
? Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte