Responsively Yours: Beyond the View from Here
"It's like a fairyland," I remember her saying. My college roommate, who lived with her missionary parents in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for many years, was visiting over a long weekend, and her reaction to my hometown totally confused me. Fairyland? That was not how I thought of the middle and working class suburb where I grew up. From Ruthie's perspective, however, all the houses looked the same.
Ruthie surprised me. I don't think she was suggesting that the comfortable lifestyles in my neighborhood were an illusion, although there would have been truth to that. Suburbs, no less than cities, can be a place to hide violence, illness and all of the other common and uncommon pain that comes with the human condition. It's a reminder of how misleading our initial impressions can be.
However, I think Ruthie was referring to the fact that economic status is relative - at least up to a point. To her eyes, all of these families had means, even though some had more or less.
Since then, I have had some glimpses of the much greater variations in socioeconomic status that occur in rural and urban areas around the world. I remember sitting on a roof in Appalachia waiting for the next roll of roofing material from the team on the ladder and staring at the well kept, air-conditioned, brick house across the road.
What was it like for the family with this motley crew of teens and adults from New Jersey repairing their home to look out at neighbors in such different circumstances? What was it like for the brick house dwellers to look back?
Every day, those of us who live or visit in urban areas see glimpses of wealth in limos and penthouses while homeless persons ask fur help on the streets and in the subways. Driving in Delhi, India, is a constant experience of poor people, particularly children, knocking on your windows at stoplights and asking for help. Giving them a dollar or some rupees or a granola bar won't change their situations very much, or at least not for very long, because we are witnessing the failure of systems to provide opportunity and support fur all the people who need it.
Of course, there are families in the suburbs who are not the beneficiaries of inherited wealth or safety nets, but there are many who are: the house passed on by a relative, support for tuition from another. Generational assets can be a feature of urban and rural settings, but how many of the poor are experiencing generation after generation of exclusion from adequate housing, basic nutrition and health care and schools that help the students to excel?
As a society, as a body, as a people of God, we need the assets of all of our children to flourish, and we need to be conscious of when our view is tinged by a "fairyland" perspective from the porch of the brick house.
What informs your view? As members of United Methodist Women, can we be better informed together than separately? I think we can. I think we are. The question remains - what do we choose to do about it?
HARRIETT JANE OLSON
Deputy General Secretary