The Gift of Poverty

There’s nothing like deprivation to build character. Nothing like
suffering to refine. Nothing like the furnace of affliction to create
something.

So when I think about kids – both my experience of being a kid and
eventually the prospect of having a kid, I’ve determined that the
greatest gift you can give your child is the gift of poverty.

Now, obviously poverty means something different in the
United States
than say Arusha, Tanzania. Poverty is defined on a relative scale, by
social norms. As the dictionary explains, poverty is “the state of one
who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material
possessions.”  So poverty on Gossip Girl may mean not having 25 pair
of Jimmy Choo shoes. Poverty is a social construct.

There was a girl on the subway last week, a brunette who could not
have been over the age of 9, sitting in her blue plastic seat with
Gucci sunglasses, a Louis Vuitton imo on her lap, and a Tiffany
bracelet on her little wrist. And I thought, “OM I will never raise a
child in Manhattan!”

And then I go home and find that pre-teens in Phoenix, Arizona have
their Abercrombie jean shorts on and slip their dry, cracked feet into
Pink Victoria Secret flip flops and I think, “OM I will never raise a
child in Phoenix!”

And then I stop myself and realize, hey, I grew up in Phoenix, I lived
in Paris, I live in Manhattan, I have been in environments that stress
fashion, coolness, existential jadedness, or lazy casualness and yet,
somehow, my parents managed to make sure these influences did not
impact us too profoundly nor greatly alter our DNA. How did they do
that?

It’s called poverty. There’s a spiritual component to this, the idea
that we shouldn’t be filling our lives with stuff since God’s filled
the void in the human heart. But there’s also a very pragmatic
component to living in poverty – it’s called YOU ARE NOT THE CENTER OF
THE UNIVERSE.

My first week in the college dorm at Vandy I quickly realized I was
the only person on my hall whose parents didn’t help them move in, who
didn’t have a fridge and a TV and a computer, and one of the few
without a car.

And the effect? I learned to be a self-sufficient adult and had to be
resourceful with the move in on my own. I found my fridge in a
dumpster and became good friends with the janitorial staff. Seriously.
And they hooked me up with a free comforter too. Instead of watching
TV, I started writing, went to plays, and went ice-skating.  Instead
of holing up in my room with a laptop I met other people in the
computer lab and learned to pronounce “login” with a hard “g”. Again,
seriously.  Without a car, I was one of the few women on my hall who
didn’t gain the freshman 15.

So often our stuff, our cushy lifestyle, and the things we have and
don’t truly need get in the way of life. They prevent us from leaving
our homes to venture outside and build connection to other people. The
stuff impedes us from being creative and innovative as we are lulled
into complacency.

There are extremes. I lived my first semester of college without a
pillow, it just never occurred to me that it was a need. And I think a
pillow, at least in my world, is a veritable need.

I just hope that I strike the right balance with my kids, that they’ll
buy a pillow but not a $300 pair of sunglasses. Just hope that no
matter what my finances are like, my family lives comfortably but well
below our means, that our children never know what’s available to them
and think they’re “covered”. If my kids “lack the usual or socially
acceptable amount” they might actually become something more than a
landowner of stuff.

1 Comment

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One response to “The Gift of Poverty

  1. My wife and I returned from 3 years with The Salvation Army in Haiti and Jamaica. We were in Haiti before, during, and after the earthquake.

    I can tell you that our lives have been forever impacted. It has been and in some ways still is difficult for us to return to “mainstream”. Actually, we’re hoping to not return there completely. And we never have a meal but what we think of thousands of people – many of whom we know – who have not eaten today. And may not tomorrow.

    We’re in the process of adopting a Haitian girl – she is so precious! And we continue to think about values for her, as she will soon, hopefully, make the transition to the land of excess!

    Thanks for your words! Keep up the good work!

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