In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.~Psalm 25:1 NIV
It feels strange to be “trapped” by a virus that I don’t even have. Not being able to move about as freely as we once did can be extremely daunting for anyone. While we are still able to leave our houses for necessities and so forth, this “social distancing” directive has a way of feeling a bit like a prison sentence. Imagine now, how those dealing with poverty, illness, and other limitations feel on any given day. To these people, this quarantine is simply more of the same hell they have already been experiencing.
As someone who once lived in extreme poverty, I can say that times like these can trigger feelings of deep depression and hopelessness. The panic that accompanies the threat of lack can become almost overwhelming. Years ago, my family lost everything. My parents were forced to leave our home and to relinquish all of our belongings. We were bankrupt and we had no choice but to leave where we were and go out in search of a new start. I remember feeling something similar to what I’ve been feeling with this quarantine, only back then we had absolutely no resources. Removed from everyone, set aside, waiting for things to improve.
In the early 1980’s, my family left Ohio and traveled from state to state trying to find a place that could sustain us. Work was scarce and we were losing ground with every day that passed. We had started out in Ohio, moved to Florida, and then to Texas. When it was clear that things were no better anywhere else, we began the journey back toward Ohio. By the time we reached Kentucky, we had nothing left and we ended up staying in a house that should long since have been condemned. We hung up blankets to keep the heat of a wood-burning fireplace in the main room and the four of us (my mother, father, younger sister and I) slept on two fold-out cots. Our kitchen was also our bathroom, as we had no running water in the house and we had to bring it in from the well outside. We heated the water on the wood-burning stove so that we could use it for bathing and washing our clothes. It was winter, so it was easy to keep what food we had cold. I went to school, so I had access to one hot meal a day there. But I felt like everyone was looking at me. I was sad and scared and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be ashamed. I was only ten years old at the time, but the feeling was so pervasive that it stuck with me long after the lack was no longer an issue.
Even years after our family was back on its feet, I still carried around the shame that came with being one of the forgotten. In the early eighties, there were no programs for people like us. We just had to find ways to keep going. I am very fortunate to have come through that experience relatively intact, but there are so many people in our country who struggle with this kind of poverty every day and never find their way out. They find themselves trapped on the other side of a wall imposed by lack and exploitation. They can see how the other side lives, but it is out of reach for them. When someone is brought up in poverty or in an environment where education was not an option, the only frame of reference they have for this world is what they have been permitted to see from within the confines of that bubble. They really do not know how to leave it.
Looking at our society today, through the lens of this quarantine, my thoughts and prayers go to the single mother who depends on a waitressing job to pay her bills. The panic she must be feeling as she counts up every bit of change she can find in her car, her house, and in the pockets of aprons that she’s hung up for the foreseeable future. Or the young family who has been scraping by on odd jobs and a part-time job in a convenience store or other small shop. No benefits, no savings, just getting by week-to-week. Not eligible for any assistance until they’ve been without income for thirty days. I know, because I’ve been there myself. In addition to the hard times that my parents experienced, I’ve had my share of hardships as an adult. And though many out there believe that when the chips are down, all you need to do is go sign up for benefits and you walk away with a fistful of food stamps and a nice, fat check to cover your monthly expenses, that’s just not how it is. My prayers are for these individuals who are looking at this quarantine as the worst possible thing that could happen to them right now. I pray that they have faith and trust that God will provide. Because He will.