What Feeds You
By the time I put her on the plane, I had no idea how I was going to survive without my friend. A s.n.a.f.u at immigration put a friend who came to visit me on holiday back in the US for another six weeks. Thus all my plans for companionship, a friend to lend an extra hand, and not having to come home to an empty house, were thwarted.
At the same time, my long time assistant was moving out, leaving me very little time to find someone new to cook, clean, feed me my meals, and help with other minor but much needed tasks. Then, in a moment of divine irony, an email came through my inbox with the subject heading “What feeds you?” The gods were laughing.
The most difficult thing about my disability is that, even well into adulthood, I cannot make a meal or feed it to myself. All other aspects of life in a wheelchair I’ve just about been able to wrap my head around. I wear shoes which I never have to tie, I get my hair washed by a salon, I’m even quite good at flirting in pubs so I can get guys to help me walk down the stairs to visit the toilets. But all of this requires calories to burn, which in turn requires the intake of food, which is one area of my life that I have zero control over. Having to depend on others for food is like a country having to depend on OPEC for energy, sooner or later everyone else has you over a barrel.
I once heard a homeless woman being interviewed remark that the hardest thing about being in her position was not knowing where her next meal was coming from. Although I am far from being homeless, I know exactly how terrifying that feels. It is a kind of poverty which is not dictated by the wallet or by some stockpile of faith. At least three times a week there comes a point where I have no idea when or how I’m going to eat again and unless I’m willing to put some pieces together, I have no idea how that can possibly change. My last meal could quite possibly be exactly what it sounds like.
There’s about as many differing definitions for the word poverty as there are organizations set up to work towards its end. In my flat in London I’ve never dared to think of myself as being impoverished. But, after my curiosity being peaked and doing a little research, I realized that every single one of these definitions mentioned a lack of what is essential for survival. Does the fact that I have gone multiple days without food put me on the edge of the poverty line, even while I sit in a riverside flat trying to figure out the next alternative for food? Or perhaps this simply makes me a bad planner.
No parent wants his children to grow up not knowing where their next meal is coming from. For that matter no parent wants to see his child lack in anything. If the certainty of a next meal is the minimum standard for successful parenting, then my mother and father failed miserably. And yet the wealth of what they could give me allows me to survive in a world where nothing is guaranteed, even my next meal.
If poverty, as some organizations such as the UN defines it, is simply the lacking of a necessity in life, then we are all impoverished in one form or another. And in many cases it is the “wealthiest” amongst us who are actually the most impoverished. The myth of an independent and self sufficient life, reflected in even these definitions of poverty, not only perpetuates a misconception but also actively pulls us away from relationships of interdependence. If we are loved, we may not know where the next meal is coming from, but we do know those around us will not let us starve. Someone will notice, someone will help, provided we are willing to show our blatant vulnerability freely, and admit we are all lacking in something which is needed to survive this difficult task called living.
Looking back to the times I’ve been without food, without help, temporarily impoverished as it were, much of it has been due to my own stubbornness and unwillingness to admit to my own need. I am not saying that doing so would wipe out poverty or all hungry people would have their problems solved if they simply admitted they needed help. My disability does not go away simply because I have the assistance I need. The fact I am being fed does not negate the fact I cannot feed myself anymore than the fact a homeless man has a bed for the night negate the fact that he is, indeed, homeless. But we are lying to ourselves if we do not admit that each of us are in need of something which makes life livable.
I cannot feed myself and that’s awful. More days than I care to count I’ve spent vast stores of energy trying to figure out where my next meal is coming from. By some standards this would label me as being ‘impoverished.’ But it is what we lack as well as our excesses which make us interact and inspire life into each other when no other solution would allow us to maintain momentum. I am unable to eat on my own and the solution to this problem means I have a wealth of dinner dates and friends to meet for coffee who tell me that I feed them as much as they feed me. Usually I do a pretty good job lining up these appointments 3 times a day to ensure I do not go hungry. On the days that this fails, I am forced to admit my weakness rather than letting it be implicit. I am forced to call someone and say “I need help.” And I am forced to admit that with the number of people who love me enough to come to my aide, I am far from being impoverished.