Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On the Loss of Things, and True Need

We've had a bad run of luck with things, lately.

Already, on this blog, I recounted the destruction last year of a laptop. (Dropped to the ground by adorable Loulou. So cute!) Then, last month, Ruby left her backpack on a city bus. Thankfully, we got that back, it's belongings all in place (including her brand new Kindle, which she had received for her birthday). Those 100th Street bus depot guys rock.

Earlier this fall, Josh bought a new bike for commuting to work, a fixie with orange wheels that he quite fancied, and within weeks it was snatched, from outside the Y where he was picking up Bella. Gone.

Then, on the first day of our recent family trip to Costa Rica, two of our backpacks were stolen. One of the backpacks held pull-ups, a portable potty, and a few changes of toddler clothes (the backpack itself was the one Ruby left on the crosstown bus--fated to leave us?), and the other held quite a few of the family's electronic gadgets, including the replacement laptop for the one that broke last year.

This last loss felt painful. I had been planning to do some writing while we were away--I had a freelance gig due on our return--and my means for doing so were gone. Our books and the e-readers they were stored on--gone. Our kids' entertainment for the return trip--also gone. Our camera to document the trip--ditto. Things that we had cared for, and cared about, and 'needed' were taken blithely, and there was nary a thing we could do about it. Enough things that we do not have the budget to replace them all, and will probably only replace a few.

In the day or two after, I felt waves of anger (It was just so unfair!) and sadness (But I'll never see these things again?) and guilt (We shouldn't have brought all that stuff with us. We should have been more careful.).  But more often I felt resignation and peace. I found myself saying, out loud: "Our kids are fine. We are fine. That's what matters."

Maybe we have to experience this kind of loss to appreciate what we have. I say that having spent some time in the past two days reading about the details of Dasani's life in poverty. The New York Times' profile of a homeless 11-year-old girl and her family living with so little, is wrenching in its details of what it means to be in need.

As I mentioned in a previous post, before Thanksgiving, we attended the kick-off for the West Side Campaign Against Hunger's Thousand Turkey Challenge, an annual fundraising (and turkey-raising) event to provide holiday food for the tables of poor New Yorkers. Bella and Ruby attended a discussion group for kids, in which they learned about the hunger and poverty cycles. There were a lot of kids in the room, which was refreshing to see. These kids need to know what it's like for the kids who weren't there on the fundraising night--the ones who come with their families during open hours for the food pantry, and "shop" for the food that sustains them. Food that is necessary, in a way that an e-reader or a camera will never be.

The turkey challenge was a fantastic success, which is good news for WSCAH and the families they serve. But the fact that the need is greater than ever, and that New York City's poor keeps growing, as the cost of living in this city rises and rises, is downright depressing.

Dasani imagines a video game called "Live or Die" in which winning means getting a house, and losing means returning to the shelter, "'which is death'". There are levels of need; Dasani's most basic needs--those of shelter and food--are barely being met.

If you want to talk about unfair, talk to her.

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