Dec 122012

If you are sick of reading those stories where someone of white privilege has an epiphany about the poor, then just stop.

I am middle class, and I’ve been middle class all of my life.  I am very aware of how incredibly fortunate I am.  At some points in my life, I have probably even been considered upper middle class.  But I’ve never been considered poor.

I am the product of a public education, both secondary and post-secondary.

My own home isn’t that much different from the home I grew up in, both Indiana ranch houses. My husband is an educator, my father is an educator.

Supporting causes with time and treasure is a family value of my family of origin and my own family.  But I would be lying if I said I was any more generous that most people of my “station” in life.  We give to causes we care about, NPR, our colleges and other causes.

Yet something happened today that made the smallest gift so much bigger, and probably the largest gift was to me.

Our church has an angel tree.  Procrastinator that I am, I was the last person to pull off two of the stars, which were made of index paper and glitter noting a child’s name and needed item.  I drew two girls — one seven and one eight — each asking for boot-cut jeans, size five.

This evening I went shopping and fought the traffic and bought several expensive gift items for family members, and decided to head to Kohl’s and get the Angel Tree gifts.

Having only a son and seven nephews, I don’t know much about girls. While I have two nieces, they are adults and I didn’t buy them things when they were very small.

I went to the children’s department and found what I was looking for immediately.  But I held up the jeans and felt that the sizes surely could not be right.  The jeans were so tiny.

The store was full of parents and children, so I looked around and found a girl of early elementary school age, and looked for her momma so I could ask her about the sizes.

“Emily is five,” the momma said.  I explained my dilemma and told her how old the girls were that I was buying for.  She said “Girls 5 is pretty small for seven and eight year olds.”

I looked at Emily, snug and warm in an adorable pink fleece sweat suit, blond curls pulled up in a pink ribbon.

Her momma and I looked at each other, and both had the same revelation at the same moment.

Emily’s mother said to me, “Angel Tree?”

I nodded.  We both realized that these girls lived in poverty and probably were small for their age due to poor nutrition.

Perhaps that wasn’t the case.  Perhaps it was just a coincedence, and these two unrelated girls are just petite.

But I don’t think so.  In the weeks before I took my “ornaments” off the Angel Tree, I saw that it was full of dozens of similar ornaments, decorated with name after name of someone in need.  The Food Pantry our church supports has a greater need each week, and while the traffic is busy with people buying Christmas presents, there is a whole level of need in our society that I choose not to acknowledge most days.

So, there you have it, another white person of long-term privilege and her ah-ha moment. I bought the pants and added two adorable thermal shirts to the packages, and of course, it isn’t enough.

We all know, that at any moment, anything we have can be taken away.  None of it belongs to us anyway.  We’re just borrowing it. There, indeed, by the grace of God go I.

I have to do better than this.

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