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Entries in Service (1)

Thursday
Jun272013

Passing thoughts on poverty

I grew up poor. American poor, which in the big scheme of things isn't that bad. In high school we lived in rent-controlled housing and a single-wide trailer. I never owned two pairs of shoes at one time until I was sixteen and then it was only because I needed work shoes. I shared a checking account with my mom so my income from washing dishes could pay our rent. But as Pat Conroy once said, "The greatest gift a writer can receive is an unhappy childhood." My gift, compared to Pat's, was small.

Visiting Tanzania was an opportunity to evaluate the pluses and minuses of poverty. The negatives are obvious and grim. From a shorter life-span, to not having clean water, to living with the imminent threat of diseases that we don't even think about anymore. (Sad that my dog is better immunized than any of the children we met).

But the surprising thing was that there are peculiar pluses of poverty, not that I'd wish it upon anyone. But while the poor in underdeveloped countries are chained to daily subsistence living, they're not chained to possessions, or the commercialism that comes with them. They aren't bombarded with messages 24/7 that say, "You're not slender enough, you're not rich enough, drink this, eat this, buy this and be happy."

They just are happy. Because happiness is free.

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Speaking of free things (and if you can forgive this crass, commercial segue), the fine folks at Random House have posted the first two chapters of SONGS OF WILLOW FROST online, for free. SONGS is set during the Great Depression so there's that poverty thing again. There's also abandonment. But if you look real close, if you search between the lines, you'll know there's a glimmer of happiness, somewhere.