Thursday, July 11, 2013
There But For Fortune
I've written before about our corner store. Our beautiful, brand new Walgreens opened a few short years ago and it has been a great addition to the Village of Oakland Mills. I'm guessing it is a great convenience to guests and employees at the neighboring hotel, as well. The store is clean and well-stocked, the property is well-maintained, and none of the predictions of doom spread by its detractors have come true.
There's just one thing that troubles me, though. A whole group of people that I had never before seen in Columbia suddenly started appearing once the Walgreens opened. Not people like me--of course, that wouldn't trouble me--nor African-American and Hispanic classmates of Margo's, or their families. Not the general mix I see at the Food Lion and around the Village Center. No, these people are different. Their appearance both intrigues and upsets me.
They are the working poor. In some places they'd be derogatorily dismissed as "White Trash." I don't know where they were before the Walgreens opened. I don't know where they came from, but they are shopping at the corner of Thunder Hill and Route 175.
Let me be clear. This is not the "bad element" that we were warned would flock to the new business on the corner. They are there spending money, comparing prices, clutching coupons and trying to make ends meet. But their appearance is so profoundly troubling to me because, in the sheltered life I lead in Columbia, I rarely see them.
In their faces you see suffering. Their skin is damaged from too much outdoor labor, or years of cigarette smoking. Their faces are misshapen from lack of dental care. Their posture has been compromised by years of menial labor. Their hands are broken and scarred from scrubbing, machine or factory work, heavy lifting, workplace accidents. Often you see years of pain and fatigue in the way they move.
"...I'll show you a young man
With many reasons why
There but for fortune, go you or I."
They are not like us.
Do you know the beautiful light in a child's eyes? The light of play, and wonder, and believing? It takes time, and energy, and adequate resources, and hope, and the power to make choices to nurture that light. These people live in a world where everything, everything is about to run out, about to be taken away. This is what it truly means to try to live without earning a living wage. Everything is decaying, corruptible, it is enslavement to fear and hopelessness.
We have nothing to fear from them but the irrational fear that we could become one of them, or the nagging fear of our own consciences: why am I so lucky? Why do I have choices when they do not?