bullet holes and poverty

Posted on August 2, 2010


Ever lived in and among poverty?

Ever experienced the noise of poverty daily?

Ever buckled under the back breaking exhaustion of poverty?

Ever felt the never ending grind of poverty?

Ever fought the downward spiral as life comes apart at the seams and you fall uncontrollably to the ground?

Ever hit so hard that you can’t move as depression takes over your thoughts and your words, and takes away your very breath?

Ever been blind-sided and knocked off your feet repeatedly by the system that was created to assist you?

There was a time when I thought suicide was beyond comprehension.

Now I marvel at the resilience of the human spirit as I ask, “How is it that I am still alive?” “How is it that so many people I know are still taking it a day at a time . . . are still alive with the stare of despair of poverty in their face daily?”

I look back a couple of years and wonder who I thought I was; flying along so high . . . so dangerously high in a façade of comfort and security; daring to think the life I had built was mine.

A promising career . . .

An idyllic family . . .

Wonderful kids . . .

A loving wife . . .

A home in a diverse urban neighborhood . . .

Other couples with young kids to hang out with . . .

Physical health . . .

Mental health . . .

Extremely middle class . . .

Well buffered, well protected, safe and secure . . .

There was this unexpected explosion,

Then the plunge . . .

Toward the earth

Losing control

Bursting into flames

As I crashed and burned

My middle class values . . . ashes

My hopes and dreams . . . ashes

My delusions of saving the world . . . ashes

My faith, my beliefs, my heart . . . ashes

I end up on the ground; face down, unable to move

Living in poverty and among poverty.

The big bang ended my life as I knew it.

Rebuilding my life from the ground.

Poverty comes in three forms of impoverishment: money, meaning, and friends.

What happens to those that lose all three?

I had nothing left but my kids (half of the time) and me (all of the time).

Although I had to start over after losing home, marriage, job, health benefits, emotional health, values, beliefs, everything I thought I could hold on to…

Although I had to start over rebuilding new friendships one by one by one,

At least I still had a caring family and a very few friends as a safety net to keep me from becoming homeless and hungry.

But what about my neighbors?

In a neighborhood with the highest foreclosure rate in the city?

What about their safety net?

What about the neighbors on either side coming and going every 6 months or so as they move in, settle in, and then are evicted?

What about Ace, living in the apartment in my house, front door on the porch next to mine? Ace was a drug dealer before he was a teenager. He got caught, and successfully completed the behavior treatment program at a local youth home. Now he’s a stellar example of a rehabilitated life . . . until his mom becomes homeless and moves in, desperate and with no options . . . with her crack addiction. Several months later, Ace messes with the wrong people. 4:00 AM, a drive by shooting leaves a pattern of eight bullet holes in the trunk of my car and eight more bullet holes in the front of my house, 15 feet from where I had fallen asleep on the couch. Shot gun blasts leaving pencil-size holes. Three of them went through the door into his apartment. I haven’t seen Ace, or his mom since. They were each other’s only safety net . . . and it broke.

What about 80 year old Mabel, with her 55 year old son on crack? She said she used to have some nice things in her home, but one by one they have disappeared. When he was about to take his own life last summer at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, the only person they new to call is the lady from the neighborhood church that visits them every week in the summer . . . the lady that is having heart surgery tomorrow morning. Was she their only life line? Now there is a warrant out for the arrest of her son, suspected of a rash of petty thefts throughout the neighborhood, including stealing my grandpa’s 40 year old lawn mower from my padlocked rubber maid shed out back . . . Who will he have to turn to then? Mabel said to me, “I’m 80 years old. I never thought I’d be here this long. I often wonder why I’m still here . . .” I said to this Bible reading, praying lady, “Maybe YOU are the only way your son will ever see the love of God here on this earth.” She smiled and nodded with brow furled, full of understanding and pain and exhaustion.

What about Johnny on the corner, telling stories about how many children the pastor of the neighborhood church (one of my churches) has fathered throughout the neighborhood during the 30 years of his ministry? He likes to stir things up for entertainment. Truth or tale? So Johnny talks like he knows things that others don’t. He has lived in this neighborhood his whole life. What about Johnny on the porch drinking beer every night as the prostitutes come and go? What about Johnny as 10 police cars surround his corner and spend two hours searching his place for something . . . someone.

Then there is Mena and Bobbie and Barbara; walking the streets, looking for answers, meaning, money . . . something. Mena and Bobbie used to be just prostitutes but now, crack rules. Barbara proudly claims purely prostitution as her vocation . . .

Then there is the SWAT team that seems to like to break down doors along the street I live on.

What about the busy street blocked off by police as they attempt to resolve a domestic dispute turned hostile as a girl is taken hostage by her “boyfriend”.

Poverty comes stark and alone

Without hope

Without vision

Without equality

Without justice

There is no glamour in poverty.

Poverty inevitably sows despair and exhaustion

There are three kinds of poverty:

Poverty of money

Poverty of friends

Poverty of meaning

Which matters the most to you?

Could it be possible that we, as a neighborhood, as a society, could become a community to each other?

Could creating community for people, one by one, reduce the poverty of friends . . .  the poverty of meaning . . . the poverty of money?

What has America done to itself? When I asked a dear friend from Africa, can we, here in America, create community among ourselves? She said, “Doubtful. There’s too much greed and selfishness embedded much too deeply in this culture.”

Is that the final answer? Or can we become a people that are rooted, grounded, connected, and whole? Can America become healthy again?