Written as a MySpace blog post 10.5 years ago, approximately 3 years before I became seriously ill with the disease that took me down and now has me bedridden. I can’t believe it’s been a decade already.
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The Legacy of Hope 6/2/07
When I went to the Chandler library to cruise for movies to check out for the weekend, the selections were pretty slim. The Poirot series that usually appears on PBS didn’t hold any appeal, and “Show Boat” wasn’t looking any better. I picked up a documentary called “Legacy,” about a multi-generational family of single moms trying to escape the inner city projects of Chicago.
The narration is provided by one of the teenage girls who lives with her grandmother, mother, aunt, six cousins and four siblings. Within the first 10 minutes of the film and after the grandmother gives her first interview about living in the projects, one of the nephews – the one that showed the most academic promise and stability, and was looked up to by family and neighbors alike – was shot dead in the street. The filmmaker chose to follow this family for a total of five years after this devastating murder, which included the boy’s mother joining and completing her 5th addiction treatment program, the narrator’s mother getting a stable job after being a welfare recipient since the age of 16, and the grandmother finally qualifying for her own house after a generous donation from an area businessman who saw the news story of the boy being shot. The narrator was the first in her family to complete a high school education and receive her diploma.
This was a difficult story on many levels. It is not dissimilar to watching episodes of “Intervention” on A&E. Nearly every person of my immediate and extended family is or was an addict; I saw and learned things that no child should. Every person in my father’s family with the exception of my uncle died young, including my father. This month will also mark the violent death 12 years ago [as of 2007] of my aunt at the hands of her boyfriend.
Poverty was also a strong factor in my childhood years. My mother nearly died when I was five after she contracted a bacterial infection, and was bedridden for three months. Add that to the strain of my own medical bills, with my terrible asthma attacks, allergies, and numerous bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis….and no health insurance. “Preventative care” was impossible to consider. We stood in line for milk and cheese. We were also issued these awful frozen fish portions, which were breaded fillets of cod with a hunk of cheese wrapped in as well. Luckily an uncle was a manager at General Mills and would give us test samples of various foods that they were developing to mass market. It was a treat when we once got “Bonkers” – if you remember those, they were rolls of peanut butter with rice crispies and chocolate chips on the outside. Mostly, though, we got these horrendous breakfast bars – vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate – that had the taste of chalk and the consistency of a doorstop. We ate them because we had to. [It is no mystery that impoverished people are overweight because the least expensive food is the most fattening and unhealthiest fare you can conjure up.]
One Christmas there was no money for presents. My mom contacted a local charity that gave us $14 each to spend on gifts, took us shopping, and had a wrapping party afterwards. Mom still had a sense of humor about it – somehow she convinced me to tell her what I got her, saying “Oh, I’ll forget, I promise. Just whisper it in my ear.” Of course I told her.
It is also no mystery that being poor is stressful, humiliating and limiting. It is easy to say “Why don’t they just ___________ ?”. Right now, as a nation in general, we have a very them-vs.-us mentality; every man for himself. If you are lucky enough to have grown up in a household that never really had to struggle to survive, it is much more difficult for you to understand how this cycle of poverty continues through generations. But instead of saying “Why don’t they ________?”, why don’t you ___________ to help? Because it’s their problem, not yours. I’m not saying that we have to give $10 to the people with signs at the end of freeway exit ramps. Can’t we lend a hand before it gets to that point? It may not be you or your family right now, but it could be in the future. Medical expenses alone are becoming outrageous, even for those covered under company policies, and one major illness could be financially devastating. Half of all bankruptcies filed are attributed to medical bills. For some reason, we as a society have associated medical bills with outright laziness, when it couldn’t be further from the truth.
There were elements in this film that I could not relate to. My extended family never bonded to get through the hard times. When my aunt was killed, my father had to admit to the detectives that he “never really socialized with her” and didn’t know her boyfriend was violent. Her death was heartbreaking, but instead of offering each other support, fights broke out over stupid things like who would get her dresser and bed.
These women in the documentary also had strong faith in God, which was never a part of my upbringing. Hearing “God will get us through this” and “by the grace of God” was like they were speaking in tongues to me. Faith is not something I practice. Even if we’re talking about people in general, or work, or good health, or anything for that matter, I never sit back and say “I have faith”. Instead, I have hard work and critical thinking skills. If I don’t do for myself, I have no business sitting back and waiting for something, or someone, to take care of everything for me.
Yet, there is still the legacy of hope. We need to be reminded that despite our circumstances, we can rise above with dignity and flourish. You or I may have been in a bad place 10, 20, 25 years ago, but that doesn’t mean we have to be there now. Good deeds should be handed out to strangers, friends and family alike – you may need their help one day.
My mom has recently started worrying that she made too many mistakes and bad decisions when raising my sister and I. It’s quite a time delay, since we are both in our mid-thirties and turned out pretty straight. I don’t hold anything against her. She also taught us love and affection, dignity, and the joy of survival.