While I was in the gym working out the other day, I heard a voice coming from the other side of the alcove. “Hey, Tony, whatsamaddah wichya? You can’t even do one push-up? Dere’s a guy 93 yeahs old doin pushups. Whatsamaddah wichya?”
At that I stopped my 20 push-up routine and looked around the gym to see who this 93-year-old wonder might be. I scanned the gym before I realized that there was no one doing push-ups but me. (Gulp!)
The face of suburban poverty is becoming real here in Oceanside. I stepped outside the rectory to find two women in their 60s–-both doughty, with a few missing teeth and shabbily dressed-–trying to get into the building. They needed help, they said. So I brought them over to the parish center, found the key to food pantry, and let them roam through the supplies and pick what they wanted. Noodles, canned soup, beef hash and plenty of organic candy bars went into the box they filled with food. “This is going to be some Christmas,” one of them said. You could almost hear her smacking her lips at the anticipation of feasting on the discount foods she was getting.
As I carried the box over to their beat up sedan, one of them explained that they lived with three other people in low income housing. Life had been tough for all of them, she said. She herself had been getting food stamps until a few weeks ago. They were discontinued, she explained, because she had been in the hospital for more than three months. What time in the hospital had to do with food stamp eligibility I didn’t bother asking.
All of a sudden those debates on social program spending in Washington took on personal meaning for me in Oceanside.
The “salvation” that we look for during our preparation for Christmas also wears a personal face for me at this parish. For the 45-year old man from Puerto Rico it’s getting off disability benefits of $400 a month and getting a job again, not to mention reuniting with his estranged wife. For the former druggy and pusher, it’s managing to keep away from the streets and hoping that his body will heal from the beatings he’s taken. For the young woman with the $40,000 debt on her credit card, it’s some way of making good on what she owes while taking care of her infant so that she can get back in the good graces of the husband who walked out on her.
None of this is fiction. These are real people with their eyes turned skyward waiting for the promised dewfall from the heavens.