The Privilege of Choice: The Poor Don’t Have It

I talk to strangers a lot.  I was admiring a woman’s coat as we waited in line at the grocery store, and she blushed a little as she accepted the compliment. And then she told me, “I couldn’t afford a coat, so someone bought this for me.  And I’m so thankful to have the coat but, honestly, I would never normally wear this color.”  And it hit me… I take choice for granted. I buy clothes that I want and like.  I listen to my cravings (I can afford to HAVE cravings) and decide “sushi or falafel today?”  It had never occurred to me that the ability to act on my preferences is a privilege.  I know it now.

I got to thinking about low-income mothers at Christmas time and the poignant ache of not being able to buy children what they want, to have to make do with whatever Toys for Tots or another toy drive supplies.  There is such joy in being able to give others exactly what they want, not “just a gift” or a leftover.  I have been able to choose what to give my children, to listen, to respond.  Not that I always got it right, but I got to try.

Lining up for dinner at a homeless shelter, men are hungry for calories.  That’s probably the first thing they want.  Yet it seems that it’s almost as important to serve them options, to honor their dignity by taking time to ask HOW they want their food served (“Gravy on your potatoes too or just on your meat?”  “I remember that you’re vegetarian.”).  I am struck by the kindness of the regular workers as they model for me, a newbie, attentiveness, noticing, remembering.

I am struck anew by the privilege of having choices all day long; that is riches.

The "What Do You Want to Do?" Bus... Wish We All Were Riding.

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