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Cycles of Poverty...and My Place

My cousin phoned me out of the blue. I haven’t heard from him for awhile. Usually that is the case. I only hear from him when he is in dire straits and this wasn’t the exception. He asked if he could spend the night at my place before heading off to his moms for awhile. I said yes. I have the room and space.

He came over and I listened as he was talking and settling in. But before he really got into what has been happening in his life he asks me how I have been doing. Before I could reply, he answered his own question: “You look successful." I was caught off guard because I didn’t know if he knew I was working or if he meant his comment in a general way. He continued, saying he would like to be where I am in life, settled and safe. That was what he meant by successful: settled and safe. I waited and listened some more as he is going through his duffel bag. He had lots to share. He brought me up to speed on what had been happening since we last visited and the most recent events that brought him to my place 10:30 at night. It was painful to hear of what was happening to him. His life is one continuous cycle. He is continually trying to attain the good life, yet it eludes him and he cycles back to the beginning only to start again. This is where I come in. When he is down and beaten, I am there to give him a safe place to recoup and recover even if it’s only for a night or two.  

I know people have their own thoughts on how this situation should be handled. Some people think that this is his mess and he needs to learn to take care of it himself. And if he can learn to pick himself back up, then he will have a sense of empowerment and will be all the better for it. Others fear this will become routine--asking for help and getting help will only perpetuate the problem further because he will not learn to change his ways.  

Well, I also have my own thoughts in all of this. I helped my cousin because I have the means to do so. I helped my cousin because he asked for help. It is hard to ask for help when you are down and out and are constantly being judged for the decisions you make that put you in the place you're in. I help because when I die and come face to face with my Creator, if the Creator asks, “Did you do in your heart what you could do for your cousin on the night of …?” I will be able to answer in the affirmative. I would not answer by saying, "No I didn’t because he is always asking for help for the mess he gets himself into" or "No, I didn’t because if I keep helping him he won’t learn." It is easier to judge other people and not help them than it is to face yourself and ask yourself, "Why aren’t you doing more?" Now this is not to say that I help every time someone asks me. But I honestly weigh every request that comes my way, big or small. And this is not to say that it doesn’t hurt when I do have to say no. However, by prayerfully considering every request, I can be confident about my response. I want people to know that sometimes we need to give a bit of ourselves for someone who is down and out and is hurting and who will probably repeat their negative behaviour, but it isn't up to us to judge or withhold help. We need to be in tune to what is in our hearts to follow up on an action that is appropriate in the eyes of the Creator. We shouldn't have expectations about how those on the receiving end use our help. That is actually God's will.

My cousin woke up in the morning as I was getting my children ready for school and I served him breakfast alongside my children. He was still looking weary. He asked if I had an extra jacket for him to wear as the weather was getting chillier. I said yes, and I handed him one that was hanging in the closet not being used. It was brand new, a gift, but it was the wrong size for the intended recipient. My cousin was amazed that he was getting such a jacket. It was soft suede on the outside and soft fake fur on the inside. A real cozy warm kind of jacket. This jacket lifted him up a bit, but I wondered if it was enough to help him to keep going.

It was time for him to leave and I gave him some food for lunch. We said our goodbyes and he walked out the door with his all of his belongings in a black duffel bag over his shoulder. I watched him walk down our street, and I walked to my bedroom. I started crying. I cried because of the struggles my cousin faces. I cried for the struggles my family faces. I cried for the struggles that are faced on a daily continuous basis by First Nations people.  

[Image: Flickr user Tim]

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