Monday, June 2, 2014

Yes, She's on Food Stamps, and no, You Shouldn't Judge Her For It

“Must be nice to have the government pay for your food,” a man muttered under his breath to a woman bagging the eggs, milk, and bread she’d just gotten at Aldi. The woman to whom his comments were directed, walked out to her car, her cheeks flaming, her stomach churning, its meager contents threatening to make a reappearance. The not-so-nice voice that resides in her head sneered at her, saying, “You can’t even buy food for your kids. You’re such a loser.” She wrenched open the broken door of the beat-up, old van and the voice continued, “You can’t even afford a car that isn’t falling apart!”

She set the bag of groceries on the floor, got in, put her head down on the steering wheel and lost it. Hot tears streaked a path down her cheeks like lava steadily flowing from a volcano. That’s the thing about keeping your emotions in check, tamping them down, pretending they don’t exist – at some point, much like that volcano, they burst forth at the slightest provocation.

Fat tears continued to fall, leaving slight black mascara stains on her pants as she did that gasping/hiccuping/snotting thing, her face contorted with every ounce of pain she felt. She swiped at her drippy nose with the back of her hand, pulled it together, put on a happy face, and drove home to her kids.

I remember reading a friend’s Facebook status a while ago wherein he complained that a woman had paid for her groceries with food stamps then proceeded to walk out of Walmart and get into a Cadillac. He had no problem judging this woman to be a scam artist based on his “vast knowledge” of her. Clearly, if she drove away in a Cadillac, the only logical conclusion is that she’s scamming the system. Or maybe, just maybe she –

Was borrowing her sister’s car because she doesn’t actually own a vehicle.
Owns that Cadillac and lives in it too because her house was foreclosed on.
Saved up and bought the Cadillac a couple years ago before her husband died leaving her with no source of income.
Has a child dying of cancer and medical bills most of us can’t even fathom and needs the food stamps to feed her other children right now.
Bought the car long before her husband walked out on her and has since thought about selling her car to pay for food, but then she wouldn’t have transportation to and from her job that barely pays the rent.
Can hardly make ends meet herself yet has taken in her drug-addicted sister’s kids to help raise them in a more stable environment.
Any number of other scenarios that aren’t nefarious.
This isn’t about food stamps specifically. It’s about judging others. Why are people so darn quick to judge? WHY? Why do people think they have enough information that they can determine the whole picture? Who appointed random strangers the judge, jury, and executioner of all mankind?

Maybe the man in Aldi would’ve kept his words to himself if he knew that the woman’s 18-year marriage had ended and she was struggling, working two jobs, to take care of her kids by herself. Maybe if he knew that she received less than an third of the child support she was originally granted. Maybe if he knew she had over $10,000 in medical bills. Maybe if he knew she’d spent the morning at the courthouse trying to buy some time before her house is foreclosed on so that she could get a loan modification. Maybe if he knew this was her third attempt at going through the modification process because the first time it was denied because the bank wrote down her phone number incorrectly and apparently no one there knows how to use mail or email. After going through the whole tedious process a second time, it was denied because there was one typo on the employment verification letter and instead of simply asking her to correct and resubmit it, they denied her request altogether. Maybe if he knew she was missing work to go to court and was sick to her stomach because when she doesn’t get paid for a couple hours, it makes a big difference. Maybe if he knew she was told it would take 5 minutes this morning, yet she fed the meter 2 hours’ worth of quarters “just in case.” Still, when she returned to her car, she found a parking ticket attached to the windshield because the meter had expired 5 minutes earlier. Maybe if he knew that when she got back to work, a coworker asked her, “What did you get your daughter for her birthday?” and she had to choke back tears, bite her lip until she tasted the metallic tang of blood, and cheerfully lie, “Oh I haven’t really had time to shop yet.” Maybe if he knew that her checking account had a negative balance because it’s a week later than she usually gets paid and still no check from her one job, yet her automatic payments have gone through.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference to him. Maybe he was having a bad day himself. Maybe his own problems were weighing so heavily on his mind that he couldn’t see beyond them. Maybe he was sinking in his own spiral of despair, questioning the existence of a God who doesn’t seem to care. Maybe he was thinking, Why bother? What’s the point? Or maybe he was just a close-minded jerk. Who knows? But that’s my point. Who actually knows what’s going on with the people around us? To think we have a clue based on a teeny, tiny glimpse into someone’s life is ludicrous. We don’t. So stop judging. Take a minute and realize that the person you’re judging as rude, incompetent, stupid, annoying, ignorant might just be having a really crappy day. Know that you can’t possibly know enough about this stranger to make an informed decision about their motivations and even if you could, it’s still not your place to judge him. Period.

That is all. Carry on.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Dawn, I am so sorry you are having to go through all this. What a great reminder to us not to think we know all there is to know about a situation. You are an inspiration, and are doing the right thing by loving your kids and doing every single thing you can do to take care of them and give them the best chance in life. Thanks for reminding us of what's really important.

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