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United States


The Protection of Poverty

alec vanderboom

On the way home from Mass this morning, Jon started telling me about the latest "Blood Diamond" like-conflict in Africa. There's a rare metal used in Play Station 3. Rebel groups in the Congo have kidnapped children to work in the metal mines. The situation is so bad it's called the "Play Station 3 Wars."

Jon brought this up to point out how difficult it is as American consumers not to get sucked into supporting evil. A few years ago, a diamond engagement ring could get you sucked into inadvertantly supporting African conflict. Now it's a Play Station 3 for your kids. "You never know what your purchase is supporting," he said.

I started talking to him about how weirdly evil is all linked together. I could have probably figured out that Play Station 3 was not the greatest buy for my kid's health or might contribute to them being "spoiled." I would not have figured out that a Christmas purchase that emptied out our budget would also empty entire villages of fathers, mothers and children.

Then I realized what a grace it was to not have the money to buy Play Station 3.

As a former Protestant and former poverty law attorney, I'm used to thinking of poverty as oppressive. It hurts me to run out of groceries before pay day. It hurts me to not have $95 to send Hannah to Catholic bible school. It hurts to see my pretty girl wear her one and only pair of scrappy pink-heart shoes from Target.

Two weeks ago, I cried because the $300 in savings I transfered to our checking account to cover the cost of Jon's cavity went instead to an emergency trip to see his sick father. There's no additional $300 in our savings account. My husband has a hurt tooth and no dental insurance. I started crying because living without dental insurance or the money to keep up with bi-annual teeth cleanings was not something I ever contemplated as a kid, as a college student, or as a young mother. "Poor in spirit" meant something figurative, not something literal.

Now, as I still storm heaven for the prayers of St. Efagenia for my husband's hurt tooth, I'm starting to see poverty as a form of protection. There are things that I should do for my family spiritually, that I just wouldn't do unless my back was against the wall. If I had thousands of extra dollars for private school tuition, would I have explored the beautiful option of home-schooling? Would I have figured out how to self-soothe during emotional bouts of pain if I always had money for movie tickets?

I'd like to say that I'd be a self-actualized woman who'd research all the potential harms of buying a Play Station 3, that I'd enforce sensible video game limits with my son, and turn that purchase (if made at all) into something incredibly positive for my Faith and my family. The Play Station might be a magnet for the all the troubled kids in the neighborhood, or a father-son bonding activity, or something else equally as grand. The truth is that, I'm not that type of Mom. I'm little. I'm weak. I'm lazy.

That's why God send me the blessings of poverty. Poverty keeps me out of trouble.