The neighborhood is still quiet at a quarter to eight on this Saturday morning. In fact, I am embarrassingly aware of just how quiet it is, as I drag my roller bag along five blocks of rough, uneven sidewalk.
I hate to wake up my neighbors so early on a Saturday morning. But what really eats at me is the thought that any of them might look out their bedroom window to see who is making all the ruckus.
People who can manage smartly for themselves do not schlep their roller bag through the neighborhood. They have friends or family members drive them to the airport—my destination—rather than risk looking like some hapless bag lady with her shopping cart.
But this rattling through the neighborhood is a price I pay in my ongoing quest to identify with the poor, opting for public transit to the airport rather than paying for the shuttle.
Opting, I say, because I easily could do otherwise. I enjoy the privilege of options.
As I heft my laptop bag and then my smart-looking violet TravelPro spinner-wheel Eiffel bag from the Junction City bus into the waiting airport van, I feel quietly proud and warmly grateful that I can opt for the only form of transportation available to many who are poor.
The working poor, the job-hopeful poor, the work-exhausted poor. The no-other-options poor. The poor who will never own a smart-looking TravelPro bag. The poor who do not board planes to travel to other places for paying gigs.
How easily I think of myself as “normal people,” as “self-respecting.”
My thoughts convict me. “Your attitude must be Christ’s,” I recall the Apostle Paul writing in his letter to the Philippians, “who, though he was God, emptied himself of all divine privilege. He took the form of a slave.”
Jesus did not “choose” to travel the way poor people do. He had no back-up plan in case the weather was bad or he overslept.
Jesus lived the way poor people live: with no convenient alternatives. He didn’t spring for the credit card and settle up later. He lived precariously, the way poor people do.
I have yet to hear a poor person grouch or groan about how hard life is. “Oh, it’s not that bad,” they tell me optimistically. Or maybe they read how fragile I am in my privileged state, and with unexpected courtesy shield me from the embarrassment that overcomes people like me at the stinking plight of the poor.
People like me are good at grouching and groaning about how hard life is. Not because we cannot afford dental care, or because the soil and water and air in our residential pocket of the industrial part of town is making our children sick.
No, people like me grouch and groan because the line is too long, or airfare too high, or because the out-of-season fruit shipped in from somewhere else just doesn’t have enough flavor.
Real poverty has no energy for whining, and for the bloated feelings of specialness which accompany it.
My cheap path to poverty tells me that I have not yet understood what Jesus was teaching in the first of the Beatitudes: Blest are the poor in spirit.
Blest are those who hold open a space for lack, for want, for the precarious life. Now in my riches I discover that holding open a space for what I lack also holds open a space for what God might desire to provide.
Blest are those who embrace the unquestioning need to lean in to God, and who encounter God’s sure consolation and strength in doing so.
In my comfort I easily forget these things. In fact, in my comfort I have no way to touch real poverty.
The poor have much to teach me. I have much to learn.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on the nature of God’s calling.