There is little that grows in Hope City. It is too hot and dry. There is a small “community garden” that sits adjacent with a few struggling plants pleading for moisture. A lonely and very tiny apple tree grows alongside, producing miniature fruit.
A wigwam sits in the center of this small community, encompassing no more than ten tents. We are told that four of the ten are veterans.
We have come to meet Bob and Mary, two residents. We read about them in our local paper and I soon realized that the location was behind the food pantry and soup kitchen.
We went to see how we could help. Bob and Mary, so it was reported, had a couple of pups and we hoped perhaps we could at least help with the dog food bills.
We were met with smiles and invitations to “come sit on the porch”, a small enclosure made with plastic, and bits of wood that supported a billowing covering against the slow drizzle that was falling. First real rain since last summer as we recall. The dogs were excited at seeing somebody new but soon went back to digging in the soft earth, smelling every few seconds.
Bob is the veteran, having served during the early 70’s. When he was denied a hardship transfer from Germany home to be with his dad who was ill, he turned in his papers and left the service. Mary had raised three kids in Kentucky, moved to Florida, and was happily employed at a good paying job and had a nice home when she met Bob.
They fell in love, married, and life seemed good until one of Mary’s daughters called and told her mom she needed help. Mary quit her job, sold the house, and they headed to Kentucky only to find upon arrival that the daughter had reunited with her abusive husband and their help was no longer needed.
As Mary put it, things just seemed to fall apart after that.
The ended up traveling to Las Cruces because of job offers. Those offers fell through when it was learned they had no car. The car they had? Well that was repossessed when Mary got ill and, although they had paid off a good two-thirds of the note, the car dealer wasn’t interested in giving them a bit more time. The car was repossessed.
So they found themselves in Hope City. Their tent was big enough for a nice air mattress and not much else. Three portable coolers kept their water and food. No cooking allowed, too much of a fire hazard. No electricity.
Even with all they endured they had found the compassion to seek out these two woeful looking mutts and give them some semblance of a home. The smaller of the two had been found in a ditch with all her legs broken and two ribs, a batch of still-born pups still within her. She was a happy tyke now, as was the other larger one. Both had elements of terrier and goodness knows what else in their lineage.
Mary was a full-time student at NMSU on a Pell grant. She has applied for disability SSI and they are hoping.
Bob is 63. He gets work as a day laborer whenever he can. Mary is a year younger.
We found out what the dogs liked to eat, what they might use most, and left with promises to return on Saturday.
We went to lunch at a fairly upscale Italian restaurant and then on to Lowe’s to pick up a new microwave, since ours had conked out earlier that day.
As we moved from lunch to shopping we discussed how best we might help these two and the others Hope City.
Later at home, the Contrarian walked in after some time and looked at me. “You know, we lived pretty tight for a lot of years in the meadow,” he said softly. “Yet, it wasn’t the same. We knew that we would sell the farm and reap a benefit, and live very well after that.”
“Yes,” I nodded. “When you know it’s not forever, it’s not so hard, and well we never lived like Bob and Mary. I would be terrible at living like that.”
His eyes, moist, he too nodded. “I can’t imagine being in their shoes.”
And we can’t truly.
But we looked at each other in those moments and I know we both felt the same thing. Utter humility. For they had “lived right” by anyone’s standards, making no more mistakes than we all do. We choose the wrong mate, the wrong job, the wrong career. Some mistakes we can fix, some we live with, some cause us pay heavy prices. But we don’t expect to end up living at the age of 63 in a damn tent.
Nobody deserves this.
Yet, Bob and Mary are often lumped into that group of lazy folks who just enjoy the “good life” on the government dole. One of the patrons at Camp Hope was in his 80’s. He too was a veteran. He finally agreed to go to a facility operated by the VA when he got to where he could no longer look after himself. That’s a hell of a way to end one’s final days.
We first thought to take dog food with us. Then we remembered that taking away choice is a mean thing to do to people who have nothing. I hear lots of anecdotal stories about how the “poor really don’t want food”. The story is always how they asked for a couple of bucks in lieu of the half eaten pizza so magnanimously offered. It’s always about seeing the poor buy things “they shouldn’t”. We know what they should eat after all. We aren’t poor are we?
We don’t bring soap either. The Contrarian becomes livid at that. People always want to give the poor soap. People don’t want to smell poorness. They don’t want to see the dirt of poverty. Clean up and I’ll feel a lot better about doling out the lunch I think you should eat! Keep back, don’t touch me. I don’t want lice!
If such a scene doesn’t make you feel small and mostly useless, I don’t know what will. If it doesn’t make you feel grateful for all the stuff you take for granted, than you have a heart of stone.
You really don’t have to do a lot. Most churches collect food for the poor. Every town larger than one thousand probably has some sort of food pantry or informal mechanism for helping those who need it. Just do something. A lot of small somethings make a big impact. It really does.
By the grace of God, fate, and any of one thousand choices we all make, go any one of us. And just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t.
I’m nobody special. I don’t do enough. I have too much. I live life well. I am not a saint, nor am I working at all hard to become one. I’m just exactly like you probably not as good. But I can’t live with myself and do nothing. And that makes me human. And being human is a good thing. We are all in this together.