Give Me One

** I originally wrote this post in February of 2010 while I was working at the homeless shelter and training for my first half marathon. The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday reminded me of why I wrote this post.**

We have a new guest at the shelter and she is well… interesting.  From the moment I met her she struck me as one of those people who will try to get as much as she can out of you.  I understand this to a point. You are homeless, you don’t have much of anything, you have to survive.

We have a VERY small closet at the shelter which houses the absolute basics of life. Soap, shampoo, cough medicine, etc.  We have the occasional clothing donation, but don’t keep too many clothes because there is no room. However, my new guest and some of our other guests have what I call the “Thom McAn Syndrome.” As kids, before it fell to being something you buy at Kmart, we would go to Thom McAn and my grandparents would buy shoes for us. They would usually point at a shoe and say to the sales person “We would like to see a pair in a size 3.”  Last Friday night my new guest came in and said “I would like a boot in a size 8.”  I said “Well, I will look but we don’t keep many clothes and shoes in the closet.”  ”You don’t?” she asked. Now I want to do my very best to give her what she needs because this is what I have been convicted to do.  But I was also pretty confident that she had had the same conversation with every other staff person that had worked since she arrived. Different night, different person, see what they come up with, see if the answer changes, or if they give in easier than another staff person. If the boots are not there maybe something else is….

In the shelter you have the homeless woman who has nothing, but then you have the person who hoards whatever they can get and has a grand collection of trash bags stacked on their bed every morning.  They have more stuff than they can use and probably won’t be able to take it with them when the shelter closes in March.  We discuss such things in irritated tones at staff meetings, but I can’t blame the women.  I have “stuff” in my apartment that I don’t want to part with, but have no use for.  Our culture worships “stuff”. Why should these women be held to a higher standard than the rest of us because they are poor?  "Stuff" is one of the big reasons that we are in this economic mess. Don’t blame it on Wall Street. Don’t blame it on the President.  We love “stuff” and we wanted it free, fast, and easy.  Our current woes are the consequence of worshiping things.  There are many more complicated layers to this issue, but that is my simple answer. I remember having grandparents who worked long, hard, and saved for things. What happened to that? 

Saturday morning the ladies were getting ready to leave for the day.  I had changed my clothes and was getting ready to catch up with my half marathon training group. I was all decked out in technical fabrics. I had my Nathan hydration belt out on the desk and was putting the lids on the little bottles.  My new guest came in and asked “What is that?”  I answered “A water bottle.” She said “Oooohh, give me one.” Now like I said I want to do my best to help these ladies, but her presumptuousness just grated on me.  I looked at her and said “This is mine.”  She replied “Ohhhh, it is yours huh?”  I said “Yes” and she left the office.

The thing is that she had no idea what those bottles were really for. They could have been for the shelter guests.  A good hydration belt will set you back $30 to $50 bucks.  She was thinking "water bottle" while I was thinking "$50". This made me think about that gut reaction that I have to so many things. I am not any less presumptuous than she was.  I don’t make a great deal of money, but unlike my guest I often am able to fulfill that impulse in some way while maintaining a home and paying utilities. I love things.  I love the way they make me feel… Buying the latest new item makes me cool or trendsetting in the eyes of others. It gives me the illusion of affluence because I have it.  It is mine, not hers.

It makes me wonder about the unfulfilled places that most of us have in our lives. And for as much as my guest annoyed me last Saturday morning, there was no difference in why she wanted that water bottle versus why I want things. We want them because they are there.

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