Monday, August 15, 2011

A Book, a Repairman, Poverty, and a Word

It was the second time I had picked up The Help and could not put it down- until forced by exhaustion at nearly four in the morning. At seven in the morning, my dad heading out for work asked me to answer the phone: the air conditioning had stopped overnight and a repairman was to call. I murmured agreement without opening my eyes or noticing the warmth creeping into the house.

Within minutes of his departure I was vertical and attempting to speak on the phone. I was greeted by a cheery morning person. He stated his name and business- his name rang a bell. Within minutes the door bell rang. "Is your air conditioner on Ma'am?" he asked. "I think so," I said as I walked him over to the thermostat. It was not; he turned it on, saying, "I need to take a look at the unit," and then headed outside. Minutes later, the repair finished, the repairman explained the problem and part change while I stood in my pajamas and the Moose watched cartoons. We were the first stop of the day and conveniently he lives nearby. In my befuddled sleep deprived state, I did not confirm that we had been classmates in eighth grade.

I am too spent by my reading efforts to accomplish much today. It kind of reminds me of summers as a kid- reading and reading. I didn't expect to like The Help so much, but as I read about the women, southern culture, and race relationships, I thought of my early years in the South and of racisim and of poverty. Poverty seems more prevalent than I remember here.

Compared to my life in Japan, America seems poorer. More people here seem hard off and look a bit more ragged as a result. Perhaps I have gotten used to the slick suits, trim waists, poofy hair, and urbane chic of the working commuters in Japan. Here, I notice the obesity that screams fast food diet, shower shoes worn as dress apparel, scroungy hair that needs to be both washed and cut, and unflattering stretchy clothes that reek of unemployment. This snap shot reflects my summer impressions. It is not a distinct all or nothing existence of poverty in either country, more that I see the poverty here and not there for no particular reason beyond it is more obvious to me in my travels here.

A woman approached us in the yard, asking, "Is there any jobs I can do to earn money?" Nothing wrong with asking, but the general absence of soliciting and pan handling in Japan increases my awareness of it's return. Reading The Help reminds me of the precarious position, the vulnerability, the poor bear in our communities. This weak position calls for taxes and political changes, to me, yes, I know, verboten words in America and particularly in the South. However, a weak community needs adjustments and assistance to both push and pull it into a stronger position: sprawl equals unhealthy lifestyles reliant on driving and cheap food; suffering equals punishment of the victims of policy and abuse; and kindness is line of sight, if and when we encounter each other, which we don't- gated communities, spheres of influence, glass ceilings- not much interaction between the haves and the have nots.

It's as if I am seeing a large fleshy wound that can't heal, here in America. I want to push the edges together and sew them up, but as a nurse I know it has to heal from the inside out. How to reach inside, into each life, and pull out the good stuff in the presence of need, pain, chaos, and the pursuit of the wrong trail? I can only think to form thoughts into words of encouragement to say, "you are good." It does not meet the present need, but without valuing the good, it is harder to reach for better.

The maid tells the child while she can in The Help she is good- before the child sees that her own mother doesn't care for her and before she is taught to see a difference between a human being with black skin versus a human being with white skin by her culture at school and at home. My favorite quote from The Help:

"You think I'm dumb?"
"No," she whispers hard, like she means it so much. She look sorry she said it.
"What that tell you about Miss Taylor, then?"
She blink, like she listening good.
"Means Miss Taylor ain't right all the time," I say.

People believe the things said about them until they learn not to. Once you get away from a reliance on others for who and what you are, you are free to be more and less than a description. We have tape recorders in our heads that rewind and play messages that are not necessarily good for us. Consider this: stop pressing the play button, let it be, quit trying so damed hard, and sometimes, give someone else a good thought to chew on.

For our bedtime reading tonight I continued The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White. Chapter five is about a trumpet swan that has yet to make a sound, Louis. His father calls him, "dumb," but seeing that he has upset his son, he explains that there are two meanings to the word- one being of the opinion that the other lacks intelligence, and two, "A person who can't see is called blind. A person who can't hear is called deaf. A person who can't speak is called dumb." May we enable each other to speak and to speak up for those who cannot in our words and deeds.