The Great Divide; Not So Great After All
The socioeconomic divide between the volunteers and the paid workers was pretty obvious. My boys and those of other volunteers wore brand name shoes and clothing. They had stylish haircuts. They carried expensive cell phones. All of those things spoke of the affluence and privilege that they believe is their due. I hate that my kids feel entitled. I thought I had done an adequate job of guarding against that, but I don't know if it's entirely possible when they have no genuine disadvantages to overcome in their lives.
The workers, rather than being standoffish and disdainful of our elitist Suburban affectations, were friendly and helpful. They did not roll their eyes when simple tasks were beyond our scope of knowledge. They did not snicker when we recoiled at the grease and the grime and the odor. They did not take offense when one of my children remarked that he could see now why college was so important.
We made polite chit chat to break up the tedium and the monotony of the work. The lady working next to me was the line supervisor. I asked her questions about her job and she answered them cheerfully enough. We formed a tenuous rapport. Eventually she shared that she had lost 125 lbs. I shared an abbreviated version of my story. Another worker; short and plumpish, but pretty and outgoing, marvelled at our success and wondered aloud how in the world she could ever stay disciplined enough to lose that much weight.
The first lady told her, "You just got to make up your mind to DO it girl. If you WANT to do it and you NEED to do it, you goan do it." I echoed that sentiment. The second woman stated that she wasn't sure she wanted it enough to give up her favorite foods. The first woman said "You ain't found that reason yet. You ain't hit rock bottom. When you do, that's when you git strong." She looked at me, her dark brown eyes serious and soulful. "You been there, I reckon. You had a thing, right?" I told her about my stroke. The fear. The feeling of being helpless. She nodded as I spoke, her hands never ceasing their work. When I was done, she looked at me again and said, "I lost my baby 'cause I was too fat. That's when I decided." I wanted to hug her, but my gloved hands were glazed with grease and my apron was smeared with the remains of several different meals. Instead I said, "I'm so sorry." It felt terribly inadequate, but she smiled back at me and nodded again. "Thank you ma'am. It's always with me, and it hurts, but I know it changed my life."
I said, "I'm proud of you". And she said it back to me. And then we went back to work. She began to hum something I couldn't name; her tones strong and pure. She was changed, yes. But still breathing.
And still able to hum.