Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vulnerability

Pregnancy was a strange time for me. My belly got bigger, breathing got harder, my gait got waddlier. My ribs dislocated occasionally, I had to eat constantly to avoid heartburn, and my ligaments began to send shooting pains into my legs whenever I walked. Towards the end, I could no longer mow the lawn by myself, climb on ladders, reach things on high shelves, carry heavy objects, or even walk across the street at a normal pace. I had no energy to weed the garden in 100+ degree heat. In short, I became slow and needy.

I had never been truly sick, or injured, or disabled, or elderly, and I didn't remember a time when I was so slow. I had always been - if not exactly strong - then at least self-sufficientish, able to paint and tile and mow and garden and for God's sake, at least be able to shave my own legs! How uncomfortable it is to need other people to help you! How annoying it is to need other people to do things that you want to do for yourself! How exasperating to move along like a drunken snail!

Pregnancy gave me a small taste of what it is to be vulnerable. Sadly, I had not been one to be overly patient with others, compassionate of weakness and need. Walking a mile on swollen feet in pregnancy shoes set me straight. I wish everyone could have this experience - if not pregnancy, then trying to live on minimum wage, caring for kids without a support system, living alone when all your friends and family have died before you, or trying to get by without all the advantages that comfortable middle-class people take for granted.

As a pregnant woman, I didn't want pity. But a little understanding, a little leeway and help was welcome. As I began to resemble a watermelon tacked onto the middle of a pole, I realized how frightening it is to need, and not be able to meet one's own needs, to not meet our cultural expectation for speed and independence, to not exactly measure up. At the same time, I saw how important it is for us to protect and help people who are experiencing vulnerability while letting them keep their dignity.

I had "known" this before my pregnancy, of course. But I had not FELT it before. Actually feeling every painful step, every sleepless night, and awkwardness with every lumbering about-face - that gave me a much better understanding of what it is to be vulnerable.

In our current economy, many middle class people are struggling to hold on to their comforts and expectations, and for the first time, failing. They finally feel what it is to not know where their next meal will come from. Some of them cry, "It's not my fault! I'm a hard worker! I did everything I was supposed to do!" They don't want to be identified with those undeserving poor who only make minimum wage or who are unemployed - who should just get a job, or an education, or an abortion, and who should just serve the master class for crumbs while eking no pleasure out of their existence whatsoever.

So - will this economic experience nurture compassion for those who have long been struggling to provide for their families with limited resources, education or support? Or will the experience of vulnerability only bolster contempt for those who need help - those who have fallen even further than before?

3 comments:

Sharlene T. said...

I wish I knew the answer to your question. It seems to me that people need someone they can feel better than to justify their own way of living and spending...I think the recession will send lots of folks back to preparing their own meals and doing their own work, but I don't think it will change them when prosperity returns (if it ever does).
I wish we were more noble than that...

MN_homesteader said...

Maybe we should be considered not worthy, but we are in this boat. We lived in CO for several years, bought a house there, etc. I was offered a job in MN, so I took it and purchased a house here with the intent on selling the CO home, but the market crashed 1 year after I moved and not neither house will and both are underwater. I talked with both mortgage companies and neither one is willing to help me. I want to move back to CO, but cannot sell the house here and I am not eligible for any govt. assistance.

Anonymous said...

My parents were products of the Great Depression. My maternal grandfather had a construction business and it was destroyed by the Depression. His daughter shortly thereafter got rheumatic fever, and after a long hospital stay came home to die.

My Grandfather, faced with a huge hospital bill, went to the library and studied engineering, drafting, physics, took a civil service exam and eventually became superintendent of the water department.

My maternal Great Grandparents had a small farm to keep the total family going. My Mother and Grandmother foraged for food and had a big garden. Grandpa fished a lot on Long Island sound with his hand-made fishing poles.

All of them said the best time of their lives was the Great Depression. It was a challenge, but everyone was there to help each other. My Mother worked on a farm and she and her girlfriend would make sure that the elderly got free milk and eggs.

Will we ever see this type of behavior again? One would hope so.

Much of the survival skill base has disappeared. I can grow food, but little else.

The big advantage that exists now versus the Great Depression is the Internet, where people can learn a lot. It might be our salvation.

Live frugal and follow the old saying "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

Eddie