It is a renaissance man, donning new masks and elaborate hats to disguise its thievery. It will rob you of hope, of motivation, of a warm meal to soothe the ache. It will steal your security and sense of safety, buried under soft blankets and clean clothes. Ultimately, poverty will snatch your soul right in front of your eyes, trailing dignity in its wake.
There is crisis poverty, the immediate lack of necessities, empty bank accounts that banish homes and empty pantries. This is the poverty that can extinguish dreams and harden spirits. There is no debating politics or musing about life’s meaning. Crisis poverty narrows the focus, listing the items as demands: Food, Water, Shelter, and Warmth.
It’s easy to claim that we all experience poverty at some level. I could speak about the poverty of a soul, and a life lived in the red, lacking laughter and joy. I could recollect the darkness and tears, the vanishing of light when my spirit was broke. But there is a difference. It might be the same ache, the same tears wept in silence, the same shame and yearning, but let’s not diminish the fear of homelessness or the desperation of days without dinner. Let’s not wax poetic about finding meaning on the streets and the miracle stories of the few who catch a break and escape to glory.
And yet, some of those who lived in crisis poverty are richer than I. Some of those I met had resources of love and community and faith that I coveted. I’ve met those pushing shopping carts that handed out blessings without expectations, and painted dreams that left me color-blind. There can be a richness of the spirit, born from a need to survive. It doesn’t make the hunger or the cold any easier. It doesn’t pay the rent or allow for museum outings. I wouldn’t choose the panic of unpaid bills and children with outgrown clothes, but it seems that poverty can only steal your soul if you volunteer it.
And then there are those of us who are fluent in four-star restaurants and snuggle under fluffy comforters. Those of us who reminisce about summer vacations and swap decorating tips. Those who might fear financial poverty but are illiterate in the words of the truly hungry. It is among us that a rich man’s poverty lurks in the shadows, threatening our laughter and plotting for our joy. This spiritual poverty wields a sharp sword, inducing isolation, misery, aimless days and membership among the living dead. This poverty robs the future of its color and the present of its bliss. This poverty scans the rooms of plenty and sees only meaningless trinkets and unfulfilled hopes. While less of a crisis, it is tough to treat, not responding to checks, steaming soup, or clean sheets.
Whatever it’s mask, poverty touches us all. It touches those who live in crisis, those who are bereft of grins, and those who love the ones who suffer. Poverty strikes through our communities and begs us to take action, to speak up, to dance for change. Poverty will not be ignored and should not be minimized. Poverty will steal until abated and recruit members in the silence. Poverty demands steel defense and courageous steps. Poverty touches us all, and regardless of the type that sneaks into your home, we must point our fingers and reach out our hands, as we create our army of wealth, armed by kindness and innovation.
And in the meantime, lets make the choice to be rich in essence while we mute the destitute mindset undermining our smiles. In the meantime, lets lean on each other and make lists of gratitude, as we tally our loved ones and work for a cure. Let’s brainstorm solutions and try new tactics, but let us clench our spirit and stop raising our hand to volunteer our souls.