My First Lesson

When I accepted my first matriculant to He-Man Woman Hater’s University, the deal was that he would help defray expenses.  He’s been painting at night and on weekends for a couple of months now, and staying there some.  I contacted him about the gas bill and he replied that he had no money because of Christmas.  I had to have a long talk with myself to understand the reasons and implications.

When you set out to help someone, the first thing you may notice is an absence of gratitude and a healthy amount of disrespect.  This is consistent with behavior from previous tenants, and I am only now discovering why.

People who have been marginalized all their lives can be unfamiliar with the concept of gratitude and why shouldn’t they?  Assistance is unfamiliar and unexpected.  Indeed, experience has shown that everyone wants something.   In my case, I tried to be as upfront as possible regarding my motives, but this kid has never lived with a father and has been helping support his mother and brother since he was old enough to go to work.  The fact he has completed several years of college is miraculous, given the circumstances.

I knew that the disadvantaged prized dignity as one of their few possessions and not to do anything which threatened it.  But until now, I’d not appreciated the soul crushing burden of never having enough and being denied opportunity to make things better.

Somehow, this kid had managed to screw on a smile everyday and appear as though nothing was wrong.  Of course, there were subtle signs of his burden, but I really had to look to see them.  Silly me, I thought getting away from home might help him grow up, when the reality was he’d become a man long before I ever did.

The other thing I wanted for him was a situation where he wasn’t forced into marriage by children or debt.  I see now that he is much more wary of those pitfalls than even I was.

My initial plan was to allow him freedom to work and go to school.  But given the economy, a good job is probably the most we should hope for, right now.

There is no reason to believe income and racial inequality will get better anytime soon.  Indeed, I expect it to get much worse.  Maybe we should be satisfied with the absence of substance abuse and mental disease.  Unfortunately, a lack of regular healthcare, exercise and proper nutrition will still take their toll.

Returning to Liberty after all these years, I was horrified at what I encountered.  I’m glad I found a small way to make a difference and remain committed to contributing to a better outcome for at least one person, even if I receive no thanks.

After all, I’m sure there are people in my past whose efforts to help me went unappreciated.

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