Saturday, October 22, 2011

Between a rock and a hard place

I live in Michigan, a place I love because of its natural resources and its friendly people. I love it for its sense of history and for the feelings of compassion and generosity I've seen time and time again. I love my own part of Michigan because of its interest in the arts and desire to continue to remake itself.

I recently came upon an article (thanks to a friend's link via Facebook) bringing up a whole side of Michigan that's not pretty. It's a side of Michigan I'm afraid of, a side that makes me question our compassion and generosity. I firmly believe we need to be engaged in helping others around us, on a regular basis. I fully admit it can sometimes be difficult to know when you are helping someone and when you are enabling them to continue in behavior that's not healthy. I never expected my blog to become political, but I think I may have hit that spot for a moment. You see, Michigan will be changing how it deals with the chronically poor in a month, and personally, I'm more than a little afraid of the fall-out of this decision.

Next month, 11,000 people who used to receive cash assistance from the state will simply stop receiving it. There is no program for helping them move on. There are no real steps provided to help move them out of poverty. There is no discussion of how to help them build upon their strengths so they can break out of a cycle they may have always been a part of. From my understanding, it is simply a "we can't help you anymore after this date" proposition. This whole way of thinking and acting makes me feel as though we as a state, and indeed even a nation, are pursuing the methods "dealing with the poor" the way we read about in many of Charles Dickens' novels.

I don't know exactly what will happen next month, but I expect we will see an increase in people who are completely disenfranchised from our society. This is a situation that scares me. People who can't see a way out of bad situations become very desperate. Desperate people tend to make poor choices in the midst of stress. A vision of a recent mini-series I watched comes to mind - Bleak House. It's dark and it shows how hopeless life was in a time when the only helping hand for those less fortunate were workhouses, poorhouses and orphanages.

Perhaps this situation strikes at my core so strongly because I've faced poverty myself, or because I've lived as a single mom before, or because I understand how impossible it is to find a job when you can't pull enough money together to pay for daycare for your children. So I think I need to find out how I can help. Maybe it's a tutoring program, maybe volunteering at a local agency, maybe packing sack lunches for children that will become their only dinner at home - I don't know. I do know I will have to act somehow. My little area of the world will be changing soon and perhaps taking steps closer to a world I only have known in historical literature - a world I never would have imagined could be anything like my own. I intend to do what I can to help alleviate suffering and to show compassion toward my neighbors. I may not be able to do a lot myself, but God help me, I better do something or I will be no better than those who allowed Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist to run an orphanage.

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