I had this friend named Donna George. I knew her from work with the socially active Albany United Methodist Society. I don’t know why, but certain people, including a particular pastor, treated her quite badly, taking advantage of her goodwill. I think that, at some level, I felt a lot of sympathy for her. Ultimately, she saw our relationship one way, and I another, yet we managed to maintain a friendship in spite of that.
In 2002, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Knowing she would be incapable of making decisions very soon, she got three or four of her friends to come to St. Peter’s hospice to explain her wishes that we divvy up her music, books, and art and give them to various buddies before she died, lest her family, from whom she was mostly estranged, could get their hands on them.
I was one of the folks in charge of the music, giving this person some Sinatra, and that person some classical albums, et al. I held onto a Beach Boys box set, which I had given her, and I also kept the Roberta Flack album Quiet Fire, for it contained a cover of the BeeGees’ To Love Somebody, which represented in song what she wished our relationship would be. I requested it on Coverville back in February (Roberta’s 75th birthday), and Brian Ibbott played it at the 18:50 mark.
The minister who gave her such grief was at the funeral, as was another adversary. I was so miffed.
There was an article in the local newspaper about her contributions to social justice, but I haven’t been able to find it. All I could retrieve was this letter to the editor, which is, remarkably, still relevant, unfortunately.
POPULAR ATTITUDES ABOUT POVERTY DEEPLY FLAWED
Albany Times Union (Albany, NY). (July 28, 2000): News: pA14.
A recent letter to the editor pointedly noted that, in a Times Union photo, a customer in a food pantry line was talking on a cell phone. The writer sarcastically asserted how nice it was that this allegedly poor person could have this convenience while waiting for free food.
This strikes me as an instance where what is “fashionable” allows certain groups to be “fair game.” We look at a photo, assume the worst, and crow about it, knowing that many will buy in, based on very limited evidence.
Yes, this person might be the owner of the cell phone. But here are some other possibilities. The person could need to make an important call for a prospective job at the exact time of his/her appointment at the pantry, and someone lent the phone to solve the dilemma. I know a mom who is among the working poor (the fastest-growing pantry population) who makes other sacrifices so she can have a cell phone to be in close touch with her children while she is performing her job duties — which often require her to be on the go. A relative might provide the gift of a cell phone so that a working parent can stay in ready touch with the children.
The possibilities are nearly endless. But popular views of people in poverty tend to allow for none of these. They are poor and they should have nothing — certainly no “frills!” If they do, they are “getting one over” on the system. All of this is part of a false “them” and “us” way of thinking, and being that it is rampant today, is certainly at odds with both secular compassion and the habits of the heart of any faith community I can think of. We can all do better than this.
DONNA L. GEORGE, Staff Member Albany United Methodist Society
Born: 27 Oct 1949; Died: 20 Sep 2002