As I reflect on my Lenten commitment to buy nothing (other than food, shelter, and gas) in order to grow in solidarity with the poor, it has raised my consciousness of what it means to be poor. Yesterday I wrote about my experiences at the Home & Garden Show and converting a film movie to a DVD format. Both of these “would be expenditures” were magically given to me free. I was happy to stay close to my Lenten resolve, but that can degenerate simply into a miser’s game. Now I am prompted to look at my experience through the eyes of a person earning minimum wage or on welfare.

Days 133 Extra - house-movingHOME & GARDEN SHOW:
House: If one doesn’t own a house, would a low-income person even have interest in going to a Home & Garden Show? The housing materials, hot tubs, deck supplies, etc. would be only a curiosity for them since buying any of the items would be beyond their income. We were going to do research on replacement windows in order to lower our energy costs and be more environmentally responsible. Surely these are admirable goals, but a luxury for someone just making ends meet.
Age 50+ with an AARP membership card: In order to qualify for the “buy one, get one free” entry ticket we had to be at least 50 years old and have paid the annual $16 AARP membership fee. Even if a poor person is over 50 it is unlikely they would have bought a membership.
Car: The fact that we saved money on parking assumes we have a car to drive. It was a cold day. Most people would not live close enough to the venue to walk.

Privileged upbringing: This all started because some 60 years ago my father, a dentist, had the income to buy a movie camera and take movies of our family while we were growing up. This was new technology in those days and most families didn’t do it. So, the fact that I had movies to convert was a result of a privileged upbringing.
Computer & internet access: Our son, who lives in DC came up with the idea to convert the film to DVD so we could use it at my mother’s funeral. He did online research to determine the most cost effective place to do the conversion. This required access to the internet and knowledge of how to do research. Libraries provide internet access but it requires going to the library and sometimes waiting your turn.
Cell phone: He called us long distance to have us find the original 16 mm film and ask if we had a membership to one of the large discount shopping stores since that was the cheapest place to do the conversion.
Friends with resources: We didn’t have a membership but we had a network of friends that did. In the end, we didn’t need to use this, but being connected with people who can help assumes that our social network is made up of people who are not desperately poor themselves.

Job that comes with perks: The nature of my work takes me to different cities to lead workshops. The host organization usually puts me up in a hotel or a member’s home. Most poor people don’t have work that covers those expenses.
Education: It takes a certain amount of professional education to get the kind of jobs that come with perks. The education of course costs money.

Why I’m not poor is that even though I got some free things recently, it presumed having a certain level of previous advantage. Advantages such as education, knowledge, assets such as a house, tools, time to research, and beneficial relationships put me in the position to claim a freebie. It costs money to get something for free.