Day 21 of my Month of Hundreds. San Francisco, USA.
Our business meeting today included a “poverty simulation”, during which everyone was assigned a role and had to proceed through a simulated month. I was a young mother with two teenage children. My husband had just walked out on us and I had no jobs, skills or savings. The rent was due as well as the utility and car payments. Various (pretend) social services were set up around the room. Even though it was a simulation, I was a nervous wreck the entire time. I couldn’t get to the food stamp office before it closed, and my application for cash assistance was accepted but nothing would come of it for 30 days. Long lines, lots of forms to fill out, variably helpful staff people, and unwelcome surprises (such as the car breaking down) were the order of the day.
It was pretty powerful for everyone, and I saw a few of my colleagues in tears. We were all humbled by a tiny taste of the reality that so many people live with every day. I could see what a difference $100 might make.
At the end of the day I went out for a short walk; not much time before the evening activities and I had some money to give away! I found myself drawn into the window displays: Saks Fifth Avenue, Prada, Hermes, Breve, Tiffany, Neiman Marcus, Juicy Couture… It was an effort to keep my attention focused on the stream of people going by. What a lot of want and need in such a world of plenty.
I came upon a street cleaner maneuvering his cart down the sidewalk. I said hello and slowed down to match his stride. A skateboarder zoomed by us and the street cleaner shared his observations about the dangers of skateboarding and the lax enforcement of the laws prohibiting such behavior. We chatted till we got to the curb. “Have a nice day, ma’am”, he said.
I crossed the street and kind of lingered on the other side. I looked back to see if the street cleaner was coming, although I didn’t have my typical confidence that I was making the “right” choice. There he came, simultaneously pushing and pulling the unwieldy cart at his side. When he reached me I asked to speak with him for a moment. “Are you busy?”, I asked. “I’m working two routes”, he warned. I launched into my spiel and he listened carefully, nodding and saying “okay” for encouragement. When I gave him the $100 bill he said, “Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.” Then he pulled out his wallet and started rifling through it.
“I always keep one. I know it’s in here”, he said. “I want to give you my card. You know, just in case you ever need anything. You probably don’t need money but you might need something else.” He found the card and handed it to me. It said his name was Shomari and advertised Custodial Services. Experienced. Reliable. Reasonable Rates. “Turn it over”, he said.
I looked at the back. “SPIRITUAL MESSAGE FOR LIFE: Galatians 5:22”. I asked him about the scripture and he said he couldn’t remember it word for word but it was something about being One in God’s love. I thanked him and we shook hands.
I googled the passage when I got back to the hotel. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.” Amen to that.