Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hunger and Poverty Here and Everywhere, A Tragedy that Can and Should Be Averted

The Psychological Effects of Poverty and Hunger
By Connye Griffin

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a novel taught in middle and high schools across this nation. Most then will remember Atticus Finch’s advice to his daughter Scout: you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Atticus wanted both his children to become less prone to snap judgments and rash actions, lessons that most parents would endorse.

Still judging others seems to be a part of all human interaction. Shaking their heads in dismay, neighbors doubt the wisdom of painting a house any shade of purple. They go to court over the heights of fences and reject the company of those who do not follow standard community dress codes.

One segment of society subjected to stern judgment is the poor class. Such stern voices can be heard here at the Lake. Two prominent criticisms heard often are: 1) why do poor people use precious monetary resources for unhealthy foods or cigarettes and 2) why do poor people waste money on frivolous things? One answer to both is that poor people are as human as those in the middle class and above.

Studies related to willpower and its effects upon diet, exercise, and brain development have helped many understand why people in general and for the purposes of this article, poor people in particular, use precious monetary resources for what many deem inessential items. Since the 1990s and over the course of 13 years, researchers have replicated experiments with similar results, learning that “exerting self-control on an initial task impaired self-control on subsequent tasks: Consumers became more susceptible to tempting products; chronic dieters overate; people were more likely to lie for monetary gain; and so on.”

Most people will recognize themselves in the mirror of those experiments; indeed most people have indulged themselves after a particularly trying day at work when they had to exert self-control just to get through the day. Those people may have chosen to eat and drink in excess as a reward or way of comforting themselves. The poor do the same except that they are required to exert self-control more often, for more consecutive days, and perhaps with no end in sight. Thus, when SNAP benefits arrive or a bit of extra cash weighs heavily in a pocket, the comforts are potato chips, fatty foods, cigarettes, and perhaps beer.

The answer to the second question derives from the same body of research. Chronic, unrelenting deprivation increases the desire for relief found in food, sweet and/or alcoholic beverages, and other means of self-medication. Furthermore, choosing wisely requires confidence in the belief that circumstances can and will improve through sustained effort. Change demands the ability to hold out hope for a better future, but research suggests that “Poverty may reduce free will, making it even harder for the poor to escape their circumstances.”

For example, the poor must often choose between paying the rent to secure a shelter or taking a child to the doctor, buying food for the family or buying enough gasoline to drive to work, showing up for a shift at work while sick or risking termination to stay home and get well. These are lose-lose choices; they weigh heavily upon the heart and mind, so much so that the ability to choose well and wisely becomes impaired. Worse, when forced to make such choices again and again, the poor may lose hope of ever changing their circumstances. Consequently, they may take comfort in frivolous things and events. Doing so is human, an affliction within us all. For the poor, the consequences compound and confine.

Should Society Rescue Hungry Children Living in Poverty?

Few would dispute the fact that some parents cannot or will not provide good homes in which children thrive. The question for us all is what to do about it. Answering that question requires information about the effects of hunger and poverty.

First, children would ask that citizens hold them harmless. After all, the children did not choose to be poor and hungry, and they can do little to change their circumstances. They are poor and hungry by an accident of birth.

Second, recent research has allowed us to understand the effects of poverty on the children’s developing brains. One study pursuing the conclusions drawn from older, historical research found that “severe psychological and physical neglect produces measurable changes in children’s brains.” Like those challenged by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the brains of poor and traumatized children show that the hippocampus has atrophied.

The healthy growth of the hippocampus is crucial for it “regulates emotional responses, [and] is critical in the formation of memory and spatial awareness.” Its role then is linked to the ability to perform in school. Children need to believe they can remember in order to also believe in their abilities to learn. In addition, they must be emotionally equipped to weather group settings and restrain their impulses, choosing positive emotions and accompanying actions.

Poor children are under duress to succeed. They experience stress at levels higher than other children because they experience food insecurity, evictions, and school transfers more often than their classmates from middle and upper class homes. Poor children are often bullied because they are marginalized as the newcomer or the child that wears the same clothes or arrives at school on cold days without a coat for warmth.

Third, food deprivation is as significant as poverty. Without proper, sufficient nutrition, children may not take in vitamins and minerals vital to their development. They may also be scarred psychologically because they are “the other,” the ones who do not have money for snacks or a family that sends them to school with good lunches. They recognize the physical sensation of being hungry and know that their classmates do not experience that sensation chronically. Being hungry and different simply adds to the child’s stress.

Finally and perhaps most important is the effect of hunger on a child’s ability to learn. Children themselves speak to their own despair when hungry. They report that they feel distracted, unable to concentrate, unable to care about lessons. Hungry children are also more susceptible to illnesses, leading to absences from school and perhaps grade jeopardy.

Josette Sheeran, head of the United Nations’ Food Program in 2011, reports that children who lack adequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life will never recover from its lack. Haunted by a child’s cry that cannot be assuaged with food, Sheeran asserts that the world has food resources sufficient to end hunger. She challenges the world to do so.

Meeting the Needs of Hungry Children and Families in Camden County

Deanna Martin is a counselor at Oak Ridge Elementary. She and her counterparts in Camden County schools insure that no child goes hungry; they facilitate and oversee the Buddy Pack program at 7 county elementary schools. Oak Ridge, like many schools across the nation, has a clothes closet, too, stocked by the dollar and goods donations of its patrons.

Martin believes that those who question the Buddy Pack program should focus upon the children. She says that she doesn’t care if the parents spend money unwisely; her mission is to make sure no child goes hungry, especially over the weekends when school meals are not available to them. Martin adds that “it’s easy to let go of judgment” when people focus upon the needs of children. She’s sorry that some people think that the actions of the parents weigh in the scales of sating a child’s hunger.

Thanks to The Food Bank, Camden County schools do not have to collect food for the Buddy Packs, but in years past, when the Food Bank’s stores ran low, county teachers were asked to bring in food, using their own pantries and dollars to do so. They did, of course. As has been often stated, teachers spend some of their own relatively modest salaries to prop up and teach children.

Oak Ridge opened its Clothes Closet last week to distribute winter coats and jackets to 37 students who might otherwise have arrived at school cold. Martin herself took another child to buy long pants; the child owned nothing other than Capri-length pants and thus, her ankles were cold. These are standard procedures in area schools striving to foster confidence and health in children while also preparing them for a competitive future.

Counselors and teachers fill backpacks with 1 shelf-stable milk, 2 entrées such as ravioli, 2 servings of cereal, 2 shelf-stable fruit servings, and one snack. Once each month, the children also take home a jar of peanut butter. Without these packs, some children simply would not eat on weekends. Teachers learn this by observing and by being available to listen when children tell them about being hungry at home. After a teacher or counselor referral, children begin to receive Buddy Pack supplies with no other screening required.

The Food Bank is able to provide supplies because of donations and partnerships with General Mills, WalMart, Socket and Kraft. Buddy Packs are therefore a privately funded resource with corporate backing. They fill in the gaps left between minimum wage work, publically funded programs such as SNAP, and human need.

A different local Westside mainstay for adults and families who need help feeding themselves is Share the Harvest Food Pantry, located in Greenview, just a short drive past the intersection of Highways 7 and EE. Share the Harvest receives 50% of its supplies from the Food Bank and 35% from area groceries including WalMart, Woods, and Gerbes. The remaining 15% comes from the generosity of people and sweat equity. Sheila Morse pays a lot of that equity. She’s in charge of the garden. On the day we visited, Morse was picking and washing kale in the greenhouse to add to the produce available for 1,000 families numbering 3,000 people who eat because of and from Share the Harvest’s bounty.

Director Judy Wimmer reports that 20% of the people shopping at Share the Harvest are elderly. Many are physically and/or mentally challenged. The rest are wintering without unemployment benefits because if hired as a seasonal employee, that person does not qualify for unemployment or any other benefits. Wimmer notes that seasonal employment or the recreational and entertainment industries are the biggest employers here at the Lake, but most of those jobs pay minimum wage, a wage that does not allow people to save or afford much nutrition.

Both Wimmer and Martin are adamant that no one should begrudge children living in poverty a helping hand or a full stomach.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Thank you for reading this blog and some of the 198 posts. Al and I appreciate your comments and "likes." Look for Al Griffin's continued commitment to the homeless through posts to Google+. Look for Connye Griffin's thoughts about literature, film, and life on the blog titled My Writing and Editing Coach. We have found it necessary to retire this blog as we develop a collaborative one about our new home in Central Missouri.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hunger and Poverty Here and Everywhere

1 in 4 Camden County Children Are Poor, Quite Likely Hungry
Think of Them Everyday, Not Just at This Time of Year
By Connye Griffin

U. S. citizens weigh and debate public policy over dinner and during election seasons. One of the policies often debated is the role of government in behalf of those who are in need. Some contend that using tax dollars to help is not appropriate. Doing so, they argue, weakens the recipients, transforming them into hangers-on or dependents. They worry that people will not become self-sufficient if there is a regulated, publicly funded social net to catch them when they fall. A few even worry that privately funded social nets do harm as well. Others argue that a tightly woven social net protects and rescues people in need, giving them a hand up rather than a hand out.

While the debate may never be resolved, data can light the way as policy-makers draft programs and legislation. Data, many believe, will facilitate conversations and collaborations, but before data can enlighten, the words “poverty” and “hunger” as defined by data-collectors should be understood.

The primary source for data about U. S. citizens, including those in Camden County, is the U. S. Census Bureau , and it defines “poverty” as not having sufficient resources to meet the required threshold to sustain and provide for a family. The Urban Institute defines it more simply: to be poor is to lack the funds to provide food. Not to be poor is to have the resources to buy enough food multiplied by a factor of three. However, poverty thresholds vary according to the size of the family and ages of its members. A family of four, for example, needs more income to meet basic needs than does a single individual. Moreover, poverty levels are adjusted according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In other words, poverty thresholds change as the price of food, services, housing, and utilities changes; these factors in the cost of living, as every citizen knows, rise, often failing to keep pace with wages. Location does not, however, affect rates of poverty except when determined by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). That department has separate poverty rates for the 48 contiguous states, Alaska, and Hawaii.

Because poverty’s definition depends upon the ability to provide food, poverty and hunger are tightly linked. In fact, “Food insecurity in this country is normally due to insufficient resources for food purchases” (Dawdy, Jordan, Matt Foulkes, and Colleen Heflin. "Background." Introduction. Missouri Hunger Atlas 2013. By Ann Cafer. Online ed. Columbia: U of Missouri Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security, 2014. N. pag. Print.). Poor people live in a state of food insecurity.    

In Camden County, approximately 25.6% or 1 in 4 children live in homes existing below the poverty threshold; it’s conceivable then that at least 1 in 4 Camden County children are hungry, a number slightly higher than in the State of Missouri and across the nation. Only 1 in 5 children outside of Camden County are poor.

If 1 in 4 Camden County children are hungry, then SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps), a publicly funded program, free and reduced meals at public schools, another federally funded program, and Buddy Packs, a privately funded charity, would seem necessary, and data confirms that assumption. In fact, in 2013, 4,664 people or 71.1% of income-eligible Camden County individuals received SNAP benefits. In 2013, 3,035 children participated in the free and reduced lunch programs at County schools.

Stacey Brown, Coordinator for Buddy Packs with The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri reports that 7 Camden County elementary schools serve 618 children or 20.8% of the 2,965 elementary population. Containing 1 shelf-stable milk product, 2 entrĂ©es such as ravioli, 2 cereal servings, 2 shelf-stable fruit servings, and 2 snacks, Buddy Packs provide food to sustain Camden County’s children through the weekend. Once monthly, they also receive a jar of peanut butter. These supplies may be all the child(ren) have if the family does not participate in SNAP or uses up its SNAP eligibility before the end of the month. 

Buddy Packs are not, however, given only to children who qualify for free and reduced meals at school or even those who qualify for SNAP. Buddy Packs are given to children whose teachers notice that they are struggling and hungry, two impediments to their well-being. Surely Camden County can trust its teachers to be good judges of children in need of sustenance.

 Causes of Poverty and Hunger in America and Right Here at Home

In a debate about supplemental nutrition programs and poverty relief in America, someone will argue against both in the belief that the poor simply should and can work harder, that a wide swath of the population expects hand-outs without compensatory work. Others will argue that data and experience simply do not support that point of view, but who is correct?

A recent book by Linda Tirado, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, reveals that Tirado’s life challenges began with her own choices. She “left home at sixteen for college, promptly behaved as well as you’d expect a teenager to, and was estranged from [her] family for over a decade. [She] quit college when it beame clear that [she] was taking out loans to no good effect; [she] wasn’t ready for it” (Tirado, Linda. "Introduction." Introduction. Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America. Kindle ed. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. 158. Print.). Exacerbating her choices was a drunk driver who slammed into and totaled her car, “bouts of unemployment,” medical bills, and a flood that claimed everything she owned.

Any one of these events would challenge most adults who would rebound with the help of insurance and the support of friends and family. A young adult without insurance or family would be less likely to do so, especially because “The brain isn't fully mature at 16, when we are allowed to drive, or at 18, when we are allowed to vote, or at 21, when we are allowed to drink, but closer to 25, when we are allowed to rent a car,” according to research. As author Linda Tirado grants, her judgment has often worked against her long-term dreams.

Still, should public or private monies rescue people like Tirado from their own bad decisions and life blows? Should funds be appropriated to lift people from their low economic circumstances? Answers depend in part on whether it’s possible for people to lift themselves.

One answer is “yes;” it is possible to rise above the poverty threshold. The Urban Institute, using research from the late 1980s and 2005, reports that employment and pay raises are the two factors that pull people out of poverty. Other significant factors are completing high school, a post-high school degree, or transitioning from a single-parent home to a two-parent home.

In light of these factors, Camden County might be considered a particularly difficult place in which to be poor, primarily because many jobs found here are service jobs and seasonal, lasting 100 days. Furthermore, “While the U.S. economy has now returned to the absolute number of private-sector jobs it had in 2008, the losses and gains have not been evenly distributed: High-wage industries lost 1 million positions, while low-wage jobs gained 1.8 million.” Perhaps more significant is wage stagnation. The minimum wage was increased five years ago in 2009 while the cost of living has risen by double digits.

The Pew Research Center notes that minimum wage jobs do not provide enough income to lift most people out of poverty. In Missouri, that wage is $7.50 per hour. If a worker is lucky enough to work 40 hours each week for 52 weeks every year, he or she will gross $15,600. Taxes will reduce that gross to a net amount of $14,400. In Camden County, that same worker will need at least $355 monthly or $5,220 to rent a place to live, but two bedrooms will cost more. Everything else--transportation, food, healthcare, clothing, fuel, and utilities--must be paid from the remaining $9,180, affording only $765 monthly for that everything else. In Camden County, transportation to and from work places and grocery stores will take a lot of that remainder.

Another problem is that few minimum wage workers enjoy 40 hours each week; fewer work 52 of 52 weeks annually. Hand to Mouth author, Linda Tirado, reports that low-wage service workers are often part-time workers, assigned 28-32 hours weekly in order to avoid paying benefits. Without benefits, the worker has no sick leave or health care without government subsidy.

Furthermore, some employers require that employees sign agreements not to hold a second job because the employer wants availability. The boss wants to be able to call a worker in if another worker falls off the schedule for any reason (Tirado 352). With conditions such as these, a pay raise is the only chance to rise above the poverty threshold. At service jobs, this means becoming a shift manager, assistant, or even general manager, but even the highest title has an earning ceiling in the mid-$30,000 range in urban areas (Tirado 442).

The element over which a worker may have greater control is education. High school drop-outs earn $10,000 less than those who stay to earn a diploma. In fact, the poverty rate for drop-outs is twice as high as it is for college graduates. So staying in high school to graduate is an important first-step in avoiding a life-time of poverty, but those teens may not make good choices. They may believe they can become Tumblr’s founder David Karp or Virgin Airlines’ CEO Richard Branson, but exceptionally successful and wealthy high school drop-outs are the most rare of rare exception, not the rule. Those teens may not have a strong family support network to help them stay in school.

Drop-outs in poverty should then go back to school to earn a GED and better still, a college degree--if they can find the means to afford it, of course, the transportation to attend, and the job that will allow them to work while studying. Each of these is a hurdle that many will never jump. Judy Crawford, a dedicated Camden County volunteer, wonders “how the poor can ever see a light at the end of the tunnel.” She says she is but one person “in the wheel that turns to keep people hanging on,” an important role in any community because about half of those who fall into poverty will climb out within a year. Unfortunately, many of those will fall back again, and the longer a person is poor, the odds turn against him or her. Long-term poverty becomes a chronic problem few escape.

Interventions such as those provided by the many cogs in the community wheel, including shelters, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), free and reduced meals at school, and Buddy Packs may be the best social tools to help people overcome poverty and hunger until they can secure an education or full-time employment.

Next week's post will continue the conversation on poverty and hunger.


Note: This blog will retire at the end of 2014. We are grateful to those of you who have read posts and especially grateful to those of you who've commented or liked these posts. Look for Al Griffin's thoughts and images about homelessness in the U. S. on Google+. Connye Griffin continues to write and critique at My Writing and Editing Coach on Blogspot.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Homeless in Oklahoma City, OK: Corey

Words and Images by Al Griffin

Without a doubt, the most upbeat person I have ever met on the streets is Corey. He just bubbled all the time. Even before I approached him, I could see his wide smile across the parking lot as I parked my car.

When I asked him how he was doing, he couldn’t wait to tell me he was doing very well indeed. My first impression of Corey was that somewhere soon somebody was going to be very fortunate to have him in the workforce. I think Corey will bring the enthusiasm and outgoing style to any workplace that hires him.

He talked about living on the street and the difficulties of day-to-day existence but he never acted like it got him down. He always ended every story with a note of triumph about how he overcame the situation and moved on with life. 

When I look back on all the homeless persons with whom I have visited, I think Corey is the one most likely to succeed in moving up and out of the street life. That kind of enthusiasm and confidence spreads and brings others up for the brief time he comes into their lives.

I hope he succeeds and hope also that he can give a little of that positive outlook to others.


Note: This blog will retire at the end of 2014. We are grateful to those of you who have read posts and especially grateful to those of you who've commented or like these posts. Look for Al Griffin's thoughts and images about homelessness in the U. S. on Google+. Connye Griffin continues to write and critique at My Writing and Editing Coach on Blogspot.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Homeless in Oklahoma City, OK: Conway

Words and Images by Al Griffin

Striding with a purpose, Conway came across the plaza carrying his entire world on his back. Since I stood in his direct path, he slowed to nod when I spoke. When I reached out my hand to shake. he grinned and shook hands enthusiastically. Conway said he was on his way to catch a bus, hoping to find better opportunities farther North. 

Conway reminded me of another homeless man I met years ago. Both are tall, dignified looking with interesting faces.

The only thing I know for sure about Conway based upon our brief encounter is that he needed to get to this bus quickly before it pulled out from the terminal a few blocks away. This bus would carry him to better times. The next one might not do that.

The thing I know about Conway is that he needed that bus. The thing I believe about Conway is that he looks forward and out, not down and in. He seemed to have hope, and that is a good thing.


Note: This blog will retire at the end of 2014. We are grateful to those of you who have read posts and especially grateful to those of you who've commented or liked these posts. Look for Al Griffin's thoughts and images about homelessness in the U. S. on Google+. Connye Griffin continues to write and critique at MyWriting and Editing Coach on Blogspot.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Homeless in Oklahoma City, OK: Erin

Words and Images by Al Griffin

I found Erin standing outside a day-labor center at the edge of the parking lot. Like others nearby, he wore a bright colored vest to identify him as available through the temp agency system. Even though he lives on the street, he picks up work many days through the agency. 

Erin said he came from Lawton in Southwest Oklahoma, but was born in Germany. He has never had a real home since reaching adulthood. He has no family left and seems to have adjusted to his plight. 

I have no statistical evidence to offer, but in my experience, I have found more and more young people living on the street in the last few years. In 1995 I started regularly seeking out and visiting with those living on the street in large cities from Atlanta to New York to Seattle and even Vancouver, B.C. Although completely anecdotal in nature, my observations indicate a downward trend in the age of homeless individuals in America.

If I can’t imagine a person such as an itinerate farm laborer living the last few years of his life in the bitter circumstances of street life, how can I begin to fathom the long endless years from childhood to old age faced by the Erins of the world?

Can he rise above the reality of his circumstances?

Yes, many do so.

Will he succeed?

I hope he does. He is not afraid to work based upon his willingness to put himself out there every day for the agency. And he does make some money on an occasional basis. 

Full or part-time employment usually requires transportation, permanent residency, and reliable communication by phone. The old adage that it takes money to make money does not just apply to the wealthy entrepreneur starting a new business. Just getting a job requires the means to hold that job day to day and earn the trust of the employer that the long-term investment in this employee will pay off for both parties. Reliability requires character first, but also resources. 

Erin seems to have enough character to succeed based upon my observations. I hope he can gain the resources to find that real job for which he searches.


Note: This blog will retire at the end of 2014. We are grateful to those of you who have read posts and especially grateful to those of you who've commented or liked these posts. Look for Al Griffin's thoughts and images about homelessness in the U. S. on Google+. Connye Griffin continues to write and critique at My Writing and Editing Coach on Blogspot.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Homeless in Oklahoma City, OK: Clyde

by Al Griffin

Sitting on a bench in the pre-dawn glow of a streetlight, Clyde drooped forward, half asleep and bundled into coats and sweatshirts with hoods piled up on his neck. On his head he wore two baseball caps. As I walked up, he opened his eyes and stared for a long time. He smiled a little when I asked if I could sit on the bench.

Clyde dropped out of school in the 6th grade, he said. Born in Norman and growing up in Moore, he worked at fast food places doing the usual entry level jobs for years, but a downhill slide was inevitable due to Clyde's lack of education. Clyde ended up on the streets about 5 years ago. He doesn’t have much hope of finding his way out of the current situation.

He smiles and talks freely, answering questions without any sense of loss or deprivation in his life. He seems to accept his circumstances as the permanent condition of his life. 

Sometimes I think the indomitable human spirit shows through these who drift from day to day on the street. They carry a spark that will not be quenched by circumstances so dire others cannot imagine them. Those of us who have everything we need to make life good on so many levels will never understand the ability to plod onward from day to day in an existence so bleak, so devoid of hope, so cold and wet and hungry. 

Other times I wonder if the ability to carry on into the dark face of utter hopelessness is not just a biological necessity like a moth flying toward light; without thinking or feeling or understanding, the creature gropes onward for no apparent reason.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chuck, Homeless in Oklahoma City, Early November 2014

I found Chuck dozing on a sidewalk bench at dawn in downtown Oklahoma City. I would have passed him by, but he stirred as I moved past and smiled up from the bench. When I asked if I could join him, he flashed a wide grin and indicated the spot beside him.

Chuck claimed the Cheyenne Tribe and said he came from around Lawton, Oklahoma originally. The Cheyenne people were among those relocated to Indian Territory during our westward expansion. A dark distinction in Cheyenne history is the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864; it was the most horrific unprovoked attack in American history and changed forever the course of our expansion and our relations with the Native Americans.

On the streets for several years, Chuck’s work history included nurse’s aid for home health companies, but a felony conviction in his background limits employment opportunities. Assault on a police officer and other crimes of violence dot his record. Relating one courtroom scene recently, when the judge asked if Chuck was trying to “kill that guy,” Chuck said he answered “probably, but I don’t remember.”

Chuck seems to remember the little things about life on the street. He talked about finding shelter and more permanent housing, but needs to have some income to accomplish that goal. Affable and outgoing, Chuck seemed to enjoy our time together, grinning and laughing on a warm, fall morning as the sun glinted off the glass and steel of downtown buildings. 

With winter coming, I wonder how Chuck will fare today and tonight when the cold wind seeps into whatever humble shelter he can find. His people ruled the Western plains along with their allies, the Arapaho. Chuck does not seem to rule much but his own spirit. Maybe that is all any one of us can hope for. I wish him well and hope to see him again.

Words and images by Al Griffin

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nation, Homeless in Oklahoma City

Commentary by Al Griffin

Staggering along with a large pack and sacks over his arm, a small, middle-aged man approached me on the sidewalk. He did not look at me as we met, but as soon as I spoke, he broke into a smile and stuck out his fist for a bump. His street name is Nation, he explained, but offered no information about why.

Disposable, a Photo by Al Griffin
We talked for several minutes, and he seemed confused and lost.  He confessed he did not follow his meds routine closely some days. Like many fellows on the street, he seemed reluctant to share much personal information. When I asked how long he had been living on the street he said “too long” and left it at that. He evaded direct answers about where he was born also. “Let’s just say I was born in another state and they are not friendly” was the only answer.

He did start taking money out of his pockets and counting it, talking about the high price of good beer and lamenting the fact he needed to stick with cheap brands. I offered enough to make up the difference, and he smiled broadly and gave another fist bump.

We talked a long time, and he was very polite. He seemed to enjoy the time, but did not want his photo taken. He explained that as a private citizen, he enjoyed his right to privacy, but if he became a movie star, he would have no privacy.  Nation further shared his views on street life, but was becoming less clear and lucid as our time progressed.

He showed genuine gratitude for the help in upgrading his beer purchase and offered a parting fist bump. Nation appeared to have arrived at the point where nothing existed beyond beer and endless walking. Even life on the streets has varying degrees of misery, and Nation had reached the lower levels it seemed: hopelessness.

Nearby I found a sign that said unattended items would be disposed of quickly. Lying asleep beside the sign was a homeless woman. I did not disturb her, but thought the image told a sad tale in a city where so many are on the streets.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Today's the Day: Vote!

Too few people decide our futures because too few people vote. Don't be one of the few. Be one of many who love their country so much that they will vote for the greater good of us all.

A similar admonition and plea appeared October 31, 2012 and appears again below.


Since 1988, it [voter turnout] has fluctuated, from a low of 52.6% of eligible voters ... in 1996 to a high of 61% of eligible voters in 2004, the highest level since 1968." Fewer--about 57%--were able to decide for all of us in 2012.

About half of the eligible voters decide outcomes that will determine the nature of the Supreme Court, the collegiality of Congressmen and women, the role that our nation will play in the world, and the social, economic and physical health of our citizens. One of every two eligible voters will vote and determine our futures.

Look at the person to your right.

Now look left.

Consider your neighbor.

Think about your relatives.

Can you honestly say that you are just fine, completely content to let those folks shape your future?


Then vote! . . .  Your life, your well-being, and the future of this nation depend upon it. Vote with all the information and intelligence you can bring to bear. Vote!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Voting Against Your Own Best Interest

Who is at war with women? Who's waging war against workers? How long shall these wars continue? How high is the cost of war?

These too are issues confronting the 2014 Mid-term voter, especially after the NFL was stripped naked about its duplicity, proving it cares little for and about a woman's welfare--but that wasn't news to me when I consider what cheerleaders are expected to do and how little reward they receive for doing it. Why is it news to others? And why do those others of both genders vote for incumbents and candidates who strip women of their dignity, sovereignty, and freedom?

The so-called Right to Work, legislated in twenty-four states, has the net effect of weakening a worker's right to organize and bargain in his behalf. Workers brought this to pass twenty-four times, and more states wish to do the same. Right to Work appears on ballots everywhere annually.

The essay below first appeared in this blog on April 11, 2012 as a cautionary tale. Caution is still in order. Connye Griffin


I often think of Aesop’s fable about the scorpion and the frog. You remember, don’t you? The scorpion needs to cross a body of water and appeals to a frog for help. The frog has the good sense to doubt the wisdom of helping a scorpion until the scorpion vows that it will not harm its good Samaritan because if it does, both will drown.

The frog, thus persuaded, lets the scorpion climb aboard and begins to swim to the opposite shore. Before they are safe, however, the scorpion stings the frog whose last word, before he slips underwater, is “Why?” The scorpion answers, “It’s my nature.” The lesson then is that frogs should beware of scorpions even if they promise not to harm their Good Samaritan. A scorpion is a scorpion; its nature has been proved throughout history.

Recent events have brought this fable to mind almost daily. Some of the very people protesting in Wisconsin surely helped elect Scott Walker as their governor. Did they ignore his record or just convince themselves that his nature would not apply to them?

Prior to becoming governor, in his role as Assemblyman and later as County Executive, Walker worked to privatize government services and reform the laws governing labor disputes between government and workers. He was also pro-life and supported legislation to protect pharmacists who did not wish to fill certain prescriptions if doing so violated their religious convictions. He was the state’s choice for governor until his platform stung.

I suspect the social issues masked the economic ones in many voters’ minds. Indeed, many voters confess to being single-issue voters, preferring to hand over power to men and women whom they deem to be of like minds morally and spiritually rather than to men and women who set civil liberties as their highest priority. In Wisconsin, this proved problematic.

Union workers who had praised Walker now found themselves disenfranchised, unable to affect their wages and working conditions through collective bargaining. In time, they began to collect signatures for a recall ballot, and it seems on track for May 2012. Some, however, believe a “do-over” in democracy is as toxic as the scorpion’s sting was to the frog. These believers are trying to rewrite the rules for recall in the midst of a recall battle.

I simply ask: did the governor’s nature change quite suddenly, or did voters fail to take note of his stinger until they began drowning? I think it’s a question worth asking and answering for yourselves. Then, ask this one: what is in the best interest of the greatest number of people? Surely that is what we ask of government: to serve the many, not the few, with all the divisiveness, debate, and drama that this may incite.

Another event that made me think about scorpions and frogs was Rush Limbaugh’s sustained ad hominem attack against Ms. Sandra Fluke, but it has been Mr. Limbaugh’s nature for many years to insult women: First Ladies, Secretaries of State, and the philosophy of women as co-equals, fully qualified to compete, fully deserving of equal pay for equal effort. He is a man who changes his voice to lisp or imitate exaggerated stereotypes in order to enhance the vitriol he spews. He has called women of power and intelligence “Feminazis” since his program first aired. He has consistently belittled women.

Why then are sponsors, citizens, and radio stations now aggrieved? Limbaugh’s stinger was in full view. Why weren’t those sponsors and stations sensitive to women and their issues before now?
Some answers are obvious, of course. Rush never before picked on a young, convicted woman who is not already a celebrity or public figure. Ms. Fluke was unaccustomed to a national spotlight and public censure for having an opinion. She merely wished to speak in behalf of all women regarding health care for women. For offering her point of view, she was demeaned, mocked, and stung. Almost no one believes she deserved any of it.

What saddens me is that some women think she did. Phyllis Schlafly did as did Patricia Heaton, the actress who played Ray Romano’s feisty wife for many years on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She tweeted with as much rancor as Limbaugh and offended both genders, only later to apologize for her judgment. What seems so ironic is that her current TV character in “The Middle” is a harried, good-hearted, very middle class mom who would have come to the defense of her awkward daughter if she had been hurt or denigrated by someone. We’ve since learned that the real Heaton might not.

Let us give Ms. Fluke credit for initiating a backlash against vitriolic talk radio. Let us hope that the sponsors and radio stations do not return to his fold after a brief and very public suspension, only to renew negotiations after public attention turns to chase another noble or ignoble human. Let us try to be vigilant and above all, civil in our appeals to those sponsors and radio stations because it is our duty to speak in behalf of those downtrodden. Let us beware of stingers when examining those who submit themselves for public review as office holders, but let us not turn on each other.

As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once said, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” If we fail, we are no better than any other scorpion. Let’s be frogs instead: the Good Samaritans and our sisters’ keepers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Regulation Is Protection, Not Deprivation and Suffocation

If you read the blog during the first weeks of 2014, you found essays about ALEC-inspired legislation, much of it in opposition to regulation regarding:
  1. tort reform,
  2. workers' rights to organize and bargain in behalf of their futures,
  3. occupational licensing and professional oversight qualifying certain persons to provide goods and services,
  4. labels requiring country of origin and other information to help consumers make informed decisions about food and other merchandise,
  5. public education dollars, staff, curriculum, and outcomes,
  6. health care access,
  7. agricultural protections,
  8. alternative energy incentives, and 
  9. the environment.
These issues in various incarnations are on the ballot across this nation. One pernicious form has appeared in our new home, Missouri, where voters have Constitutional Amendments before them. One allows any farmer to use any product he wishes or rancher to raise any animal he wishes regardless of the downstream consequences on his neighbors, children, or other industries. It passed after a recount for the results of a primary election with only about 25% of the registered voting population participating. Another on the ballot in November will deprive teachers of tenure and permanently link their evaluation, hence their worth, to standardized test results.

The essay that appears below was first posted on this blog June 26, 2013. I think it merits another look, especially as we count down to the 2014 mid-term elections. I advise voters to choose wisely the candidate who speaks for the greater good and not just for small groups with powerful lobbies. Connye Griffin


The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom. --John Locke

John Locke was a key component in the education of our nation’s Founding Fathers. Locke’s ideologies influenced the authors of The Declaration of Independence to argue for the sacred privilege of men to revolt if the Executive or Supreme Power infringed upon their rights as men to preserve life and liberty. Locke also argued for the governmental supremacy of the legislative branches of government, a foundational component of the new government that resulted from a revolution to separate from British rule.

In the quotation above, Locke declares that the purpose of law is to preserve and enlarge freedom because law guarantees freedom. Locke’s contention is that men enter into governmental agreements in order to preserve their lives. Government exists to protect property and life, and that is exactly what many of our laws accomplish.

Traffic laws, for example, exist to insure that qualified drivers have access to vehicles upon roads. Furthermore, citizens agree to hold themselves to a wide array of restrictions that serve the greater good of preserving life. Solid lines divide highways, letting drivers know which space to use and when they may invade the space dedicated to other drivers. Traffic signals direct the flow of traffic and facilitate sharing the roadways safely. None of us complains about these impediments to our freedom simply because these impediments secure our ultimate freedom: the freedom to live.

Similarly, seat belt restrictions protect our freedom to live whole and long. Data proved that seat belts save lives. Without them and similar safety devices, chests turned concave against steering wheels in high-speed crashes or entire bodies were flung into the air like blankets in high winds, but unlike fabric, those bodies fell against hard ground, maimed, their animation ended.

This logic following from consumer and citizen protection has extended to many products, machines, and human interactions. We have even censored our First Amendment privileges if our words are an abuse of our freedom. If one maliciously and cruelly inspires panic, resulting in a loss of life or harm, then the words themselves become criminal.

Except when the Second Amendment is the topic. Gun-lovers, National Rifle Association members, and under-informed citizens object loudly to restrictions. Some even threaten revolution to protect their freedom to be part of a “well-regulated militia.”

But recent legislation has not endangered the right to keep and bear arms as long as one is not mentally incapacitated and willing to submit to a background check in all sales venues, including gun shows and private homes. These restrictions were proposed in order to protect the most vulnerable among us: unarmed citizens; i.e., students in libraries or classrooms, movie-goers, passersby, and children walking to and from schools. Like seat belts and solid lines, the restrictions merely exist to preserve the ultimate freedom: the freedom to live.

Counter-arguments hold that we cannot preserve every life so why should we bother? Why tamper with the Second Amendment? But traffic laws do not save every life, and we are proud to uphold them because we know that more will surely die on a completely unregulated roadway. We agree to show proof of citizenship and identity to board planes even though only a few madmen can slip through our restrictions and threaten to end us. We are also happy to give personal information in order to use a credit card, buy a home, and insure our property. Why then is there such a hue and cry about guns?

Because it is a topic that quickly and easily inflames some and divides loyalties. I contend that the first loyalty should be to the principle for which government exists: the preservation and enlargement of freedom, including the freedom due students, movie-goers, and passersby--the freedom of ordinary citizens to go about their lives reasonably secure in the knowledge that government works to secure the peace among them.

Be a responsible citizen. Uphold the principle of government. Agree to certain, limited restrictions that grant greater freedoms.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Children Crossing at Our Borders, the Dream Act, and Illegal Immigrants Among Us

This blog has, of late, posted photos of those among us without haven. Some of those photographed are homeless veterans, some suffer from illness, and others are immigrants. Most of them are people for whom life swept in like a hurricane, and they were not strong swimmers.

Immigration, the Dream Act, and citizens in dire need have been constants on the political stage, much debated, often controversial, and without solution--at least in Congress. I'd like to think the hearts and minds of American citizens bend toward justice and compassion; I'd like to think that most Americans do not wish hardship, poverty, homelessness, or suffering upon any one, legal or illegal, with or without a home in spite of adults on film brandishing the faces of monsters and even weapons against young children sent from their mothers into a Hope and a Promise

On January 21, 2011, I posted the essay that appears below. I still believe every word, and I think it's relevant for our consideration as the mid-term elections approach. I advise you to choose wisely the candidate who represents the greatest degree of compassion. Connye Griffin


Photo by Al Griffin

Harper Lee imbued her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, with the spirit of empathy. Atticus’ advice to Scout is a metaphor for empathy when he tells her she must walk in the shoes of another to truly understand him. Atticus wants Scout to put herself in the place of others, to see through their eyes, to walk the ground they must walk. He teaches her tolerance and understanding with this advice--just as he teaches Jem the same lessons by forcing him to read to Mrs. Dubose and learn about the whole woman, not just the despicable racist woman.

When Gandhi wrote that “Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding," he suggests that the absence of empathy is a plague upon societies. His words suggest that Atticus’ lessons are essential lessons for the next generation, and I agree.

Intolerance drove the Puritans to this continent. Yet once here, where they could worship freely and govern themselves, they became mirror images of the persecutors they had just fled. They exiled voices raised in opposition to their own. Anne Hutchison and Roger Williams were two forced out, forced to start anew. Williams argued that the Church and State should be separate and that Puritans had no right to take land from the Native Americans because their Bible granted them sovereignty. He founded Rhode Island under new more egalitarian principles.

The Puritans were among the first to implement the three strikes penalty and used it upon Quakers who returned to Puritan villages to proselytize a third time. Quakers were merely evicted first, punished after a second visit, and hanged after a third. Quakers were not the only objects of Puritan justice: the Pequot Indians were brutally slaughtered when they refused to acquiesce to Puritan demands.

The history of the United States, from colonial to revolutionary and modern times, is a tale of intolerance. The Puritans fled religious persecution, only to re-create it here. The colonists revolted because the King and Parliament failed to respect and uphold colonial points-of-view. Post-revolution, the country prospered by acting with extreme prejudice against those racially different; planters and land-owners persuaded themselves that slavery was appropriate and necessary. Even after the nation had fought itself to be rid of slavery, segregation institutionalized and furthered intolerance, suppressing the promise of African-Americans.

Still, immigrants came, some unwillingly and many quite willingly because this nation promised a better tomorrow for them. They fled famine, poverty, and powerlessness to transform themselves for their children and children’s children. The Irish, for example, were persecuted even though they looked like their persecutors. Religion divided them from the Anglican majority in England and carried over in Protestant America. Yet they endured. They thrived. They became American citizens.

Years later, the Vietnamese immigrated to the U. S., many at the invitation of the U. S. after the American soldier left Vietnam. Those who were given sanctuary found a different persecutor instead after settling along the coast to take up lives as fishermen. There, the old terrorist organizations from the late 1800s, including the Ku Klux Klan, intimidated the Vietnamese shrimpers by overcharging them for boats, coercing bait shops to block Vietnamese fishermen from buying bait, and even burning their boats (Galveston Bay, TX from 1979-1981).

Now, the targets are Middle Eastern and Latino, and now, intolerance is legislated in states like Oklahoma and Arizona. Persecutors go by political party names and take advantage of social networking and the media to increase their following and petition their government for repressive laws.

None of this history is admirable. None of it should make us nostalgic for some form of good old days, and none of it takes into account the contributions of immigrants. Levi and Strauss, nineteenth-century immigrants, provided the ubiquitous and ever more fashionable riveted clothing, better known as blue jeans. A Belgian-born immigrant, Baekeland, provided an early useful plastic, Bakelite. Tesla, originally from Serbia, gave the world radio. Gideon Sundbach, a Swede who immigrated, improved the zipper that became an essential tool for the U. S. Army during World War I. The simple Q-tip was given to the U. S. by Gerstenzang, a man born in Poland.
African-American inventors are many; George Washington Carver, a former slave, is one of the most famous among them.

We do not truly know what the good old days were if we wish to return to them. The world, this nation in particular, slowly turns toward the good. We become less barbaric. We become more tolerant. We search our souls for truth and answers to questions for justice. Much of this evolution is the result of understanding--of empathy. We must continue to heed the wise advice of those few souls who seem further along the spiritual evolutionary scale, souls that include advocates for equality, seekers of justice, men like Gandhi who also counseled:

"I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest . . . whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [independence] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away." - Mohandas Gandhi

Let us ask ourselves Gandhi’s questions as we contemplate regulation, reform, taxes, health care, gun violence, political vitriol, and immigration. Let us find tolerance within through empathy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Homeless in Springfield, MO: Can a Car Be Sufficient Shelter?

Words and Images by Al Griffin

Walking the long unused railroad tracks in the oldest industrial part of Springfield, I found a young man sitting cross-legged on the gravel between the weeds and the rails. He had a backpack lying hidden in the weeds behind him. He had a paper cup beside him and a pile of books on the ground in front of him. We talked a while and I asked if he lived on the street. He explained that he did not live on the street; he had a car. 

Not a distinction I had spent time contemplating, I stopped and thought about it a while. I asked him if he lived in his car, and he mumbled that he mostly traveled and read his bird books and studied birds, a life many of us would find pleasant enough if not forced into it by life and times over which we held little control.

He never said his name, even when he shook hands, and I told him mine. But he did explain he had lived in Springfield 6 or 8 years back and had been a student at the local college for a short time. A time he clearly cherished if I read him correctly. He referred to his attempts at writing about the birds he watched. He had a notebook and several pens and pencils near the books. He seemed to appreciate the fact I took pictures and appeared to have an artistic inclination even though he showed no evidence of sketching the birds.

Perhaps I too would imagine a fine and productive life if I were forced to live in my car and would explain my life as given to the study of the most beautiful and carefree of the creatures among us. I would like to think so. I wish him well and hope he finds his dreams.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Dilemma for Those Homeless: To Shelter or Not To Shelter

Words and Images by Al Griffin

When I found the couple standing in front of a boarded-up storefront, I thought I recognized him and her. As it turned out I was wrong, but we shook hands and chatted for a moment. 

Turns out they were waiting to board a bus to another part of town where a shelter was located. Obviously living on the street, they still exhibited a pride and did not want to appear in need. He seemed earnestly engaged in some discussion with her while she was clearly preoccupied with her cell phone.

Living in desperate circumstances does not change our basic human nature. In the finest houses of our cities, in the fine cars, and in the fine and exquisite neighborhoods, some of us ignore others in favor of our devices, some of us don’t notice we’re being ignored and just rattle on. Or so I’m told sometimes.

I recently interviewed the Executive Director of a homeless shelter serving several counties. I learned that among the homeless, the down and out and truly desperate, there is a stigma associated with going to the shelter. It becomes the last choice, the last resort of those in the most need. Many make the choice to avoid the shelter at all costs, and in many cases the cost is too high.

Even those who utilize the shelters seem to deny their affiliation sometimes. As I sit here, I wonder what decision I would make in that circumstance, what story I would tell others about my lodging choices.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cities Are Not User-Friendly for the Homeless, Especially Those in Wheelchairs

Words and Images by Al Griffin

I found George moving back and forth on a sidewalk in downtown Springfield, Missouri, working the joystick of his electric chair, but not able to go anywhere. The sidewalks in many U. S. cities do not provide easy access for mobility devices in use. Sure there are curb cuts and ramps at the intersections; there are sidewalks made wide and flat for those dependent on wheels to walk. But disrepair, crowds, delivery trucks, and construction barricades block the mechanical aids completely and often. Where we step off the curb and walk around the crane lifting materials to the workmen on the roof, the wheel chair does an about face and rolls back up the street to the intersection where the ramp allows it to cross the street. The wheel chair must cover a lot more distance than we do when we skirt the edge of a temporary blockage.

George, driving the chair containing a bag with all his worldly possessions on the back, wearing soiled and worn clothing, unshaven and unkempt and unable to walk, seemed stymied. I spoke and shook hands, and he seemed happy enough to stop toiling with transportation issues and just sitting for a moment. 

When I asked George if he was living on the streets, he said “no” and jerked a thumb over his shoulder, saying, “I live up that way in a high-rise.” It seemed like a well-worn reply, perhaps an attempt to dull the pain or offer humor or just deflect others’ attempts to help or hinder.

George’s morning seemed confusing and troubling on many levels, but his dependence on a mechanical device clearly weighed heavily on him that morning. I wished him well and told him to be careful on the streets, and he thanked me sincerely as he motored off the way he had come--so far back to the ramp he needed. His orange flag flying behind his chair, his orange ball cap pulled down tightly on his head, George motored off up the street as I watched his reflection disappear in a broken storefront window.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hope, Perseverance, and Will Characterize One Man Homeless in Springfield, MO

Words and Images by Al Griffin

Downtown Springfield is a vibrant and charming place of 150,000 or so citizens where some are on the way up, some are on the way down, some are on the way in, and some are on the way out. Springfield’s  city center around the square has the usual mix of social circumstances: ups and downs, in and outs.

But on this day, I encountered Billy on a hot sidewalk just before noon. A pleasant smile and firm handshake accompanied the “hello” when I approached him. Outgoing and thoughtful, Billy said he had lived on the street for a couple of years after losing work and home. Billy worked a variety of different jobs before finding himself unable to land any job. He has no car and no prospects. He lives out of a small satchel he carries. 

After talking for a while about his travels from city to city looking for opportunities, it was clear he blamed no one for his circumstances. He suffered no ill will toward anyone and wishes others the best of luck. Even though I doubt he had eaten much in the last twenty-four hours, he refused any offer of money to help him on his way. He smiled and shook his head, saying, “give it to someone that needs it more.”

I wonder how many of us in similar circumstances would be so giving and so forgiving. He soldiers on with nothing but hope and perseverance and will. And good cheer. Could I have the same things to offer? I wonder.

I wish good luck to Billy. He deserves it more than most I think.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Coffee and Conversation Bridge the Divide Between Those Homeless and Those with a Safe Haven

Words and Images by Al Griffin

I walked into an old industrial area of Springfield midmorning in September while Summer’s heat was still upon us. Around the edges of overgrown empty lots and abandoned industrial buildings, the only shade lived under scrubby bushes along with rusted cans and homeless people in makeshift day camps. Some scattered at the sight of a stranger, probably conditioned to being run off private property by those who worry about such things.

A dog left behind barked to warn me off his piece of ground. On the opposite edge, under cool leafy trees, a blanket held two people. A woman, mid thirties, sat cross-legged on the blanket looking at me as I walked slowly through the ankle high grass toward her shade. The man lay on the blanket and appeared to be asleep with his head on a very small backpack.

I carried a camera in one hand at my side and a cup of coffee in the other hand. She looked at the coffee mostly, but seemed unsure and apprehensive. I just said hello and stopped about ten feet away so she wouldn’t feel threatened or have to look up at an uncomfortable angle. She kept looking away and fidgeting with her long hair. She hadn’t been awake very long and her companion seemed to be deeply asleep from fatigue or substance. 

I asked how she was doing and she mumbled “OK” looking down. When she looked up at the coffee again, I asked if she wanted a cup of coffee. She seemed very happy and said thanks over and over. After a few minutes, I asked if she minded if I sat down. She agreed, more relaxed with the coffee and conversation.

She called herself Bella and said her friend was Ying Ying and poked him asking if he was awake. He did not stir much. On the street for a few months, Bella said she used to work at local day care centers, but got into some “trouble’ and lost her job and ended up on the street. Ying Ying, she told me, has been on the street for a couple of years. 

Bella kept saying she had a small cut on her eye and touching it with her hand to cover the place that appeared to be the result of a blow to the face. I could offer conjecture about the cause or circumstances, but that’s pointless. The vulnerability a woman on the street must feel, the fear about predators in her social circle, are powerful forces and would cause someone to rationalize that the occasional blow from her “protector” is a small price to pay for the safety he offers. But the other version may be the true one. This man of hers may have ridden in on his white horse and saved her from savages in her jungle; he may be the knight that rescued her from her fate.

What I know is that Bella warmed to the simple offer of hot coffee and conversation the same way any stranger does at Starbucks on any given morning. We all want the same thing. We all respond to the same stimuli. We all are alike in so many ways. 

I got to bathe this morning and put on clean clothes and face the day with a bright and eager companion and a cup of hot coffee. I hope the Bellas and Ying Yings of the world have a shot at that in their near future.