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Part XIII, Poverty and Abundance

By Remy Benoit

Poverty encompasses so very many things.
It is thing of place, a thing of attitude.
It is a physical thing.
It is a mental attitude.
It is a spiritual abyss.

Poverty is lack; lack of something vital to our well-being and our growth.

And yet multi-millionaires commit suicide, so it seems that poverty involves more than lack of money.

If you are ready to be honest with yourself, to do deep spiritual archaeology, what are the poverty areas of your life?

Do you still ache for your father to give you the love he was never capable of expressing? Do you still wish that he had taken the time to play baseball with you? Ah, but can you honestly listen to The Cat's in the Cradle and know that you have always been there for your kids? Can you admit that none of us can honestly be there for anyone, including ourselves, all the time? Can you find instead of an empty baseball mound the day your Grandpop died and you and your Dad took a walk and felt the responsibility shifting onto two new generations? Do you recall your Dad's acceptance or rejection of the responsibilities of being the eldest male in the family?

Did you feel perhaps a poverty of support when you had to go into the service, and really wanted to talk about what it was like and couldn't set up the communications lines? Did you, do you still, feel bereft of that male bonding and sharing if Dad was a WWII or Korean Vet and you were a Vet of Vietnam? What would you like your father to understand about your experience? What would you like to ask him of his?

Try to write a scene where perhaps you go out somewhere both of you like for the afternoon, have a nice dinner together and then really take the time to sit together and talk for the rest of the evening. What things do you want to write into the conversation? What kind of resolution do you think might be possible if you really talked and listened to each other? Or would your scene end up with bitterness and more separation? If that is the case, go back over the scene and see where the good feelings of the day turned. What can you change to make the scene change, your real communications change? What are the trigger words that break down the communication? What would happen to the scene if you could find other words to heal rather than to extend the breach? How many of those trigger words are part of your everyday life and reactions? How can you "write" them out of your life? How would your life change if you could do that?

Make lists of words that set people off, that push their buttons, and cause immediate and predictable reactions. How can they best be employed in your writing? How can your being conscious of your responses to them change those responses?

Did you want your Dad to support your emerging femininity in your teens only to have him make critical remarks about your clothes, hair, overall look, etc.? How did that impact on your perception of you? Write a scene where you explain to your father the difficulties in growing into a woman in the time that you did? What words would you like him to say to you then, now? Write a short story in which you spend the day with your father walking on a warm beach, cooking supper over an open fire. How would the salt air and the rhythm of the tides impact on your conversation? Does speaking outside like this make you comfortable, or are you more comfortable with a conversation in a closed room?

Do you still have an unfulfilled image of an apron clad mother who had warm cookies ready for you when you came home from school, when in fact you were a latch key kid?

Do you still fantasize about the absolutely perfect, divine smelling, delicious tasting and feeling Christmas celebration? You know the one I mean. The one where all the family members are dressed beautifully; the table glitters with spotless china and sparkling silver. Someone is playing the piano, the fireplace warms and glows the room. Under a huge, perfectly shaped tree exquisitely decorated with ornate balls, warm glowing tiny lights and light catching real old-fashioned tinsel, under that perfect tree sit beautifully wrapped presents that are exactly what everyone desires the most, and, of course, everything fits! What is the reality of your Christmas, of Chanukah, or other special holiday? How does it meet your expectational levels, or does it fall far below that? With honesty, what do you do, or, indeed, not do, that causes that expectational level to not be met? Do you bring an expectation of poverty to the celebration with you? Do you expect a certain uncle to be obnoxious; an aunt to be whining and complaining, or can you look at all of it with the eyes of Dylan Thomas in A Child's Christmas in Wales?

What about the sometimes poverty of the teacher/student relationship? Do you feel like you were branded by the school, be it "Classified," or "Gifted?" What impact do you feel those labels had on your education and life outside of school?

Let's create a character; your choice, male or female: from a city, or rural area, or perhaps near some body of water? Age? Gender? Hair and eye color? Occupation?

Your character is going home for the holidays. You determine if the family is large or small. Give a detailed description of the area the home is in and the home itself where the holiday will be celebrated. Tell what the feelings of the character are as she/he nears, then enters the home. What ghosts linger and dance in those feelings, in the memories, in the expectations? Is your character coming home a "success," a "failure," or someone who simply lives such a different lifestyle than the rest of the people that the afternoon will be spent with that there is no feeling of hope for any real communication.? Or, does you character approach with joy, expectation of fun and good memories?

Your character has a surprise for those with whom he is spending the day. Three additional people from her/his past have been invited. These are people who have had an impact, positive or negative, on her/his past.

How will you play this out? In writing this, observe your feelings that are coming to the surface? Is there joy, anger, tears? Write them into the story, including all the tactile things you are feeling; sweating, nervousness, angst, laughter, whatever?

For further exercises in archaeological healing and writing take your character, once you have become familiar and comfortable with her/him into the following situations:

….a Thanksgiving community kitchen where food is being served to the poor. How does your character interact with these people? Why is the character there; voluntary, forced, guilt trip? What feelings emerge as the people are fed; what feelings emerge when your character goes home? What does she/he find at home that was perhaps not found before? Does the character suffer, understand, the kind of poverty that the people who were fed know?

….take your character into a nursing home for the elderly again to help with a holiday celebration of your choice. How does your character relate to aging and illness? Is your character so filled with fear that death comes in daily doses because of it? Does your character see death as simply a change in plane, nothing to be feared? Has she/he perhaps gone through a near death experience? Can that experience be shared with the elderly to help them, succor them?

What is your character's feeling about physical illness? Can you write a scene from her/his childhood where there was illness in his life? How was it handled? Who cared for him? Did the illness bring attention that was lacking in other areas? Was the illness treated as an inconvenience?

Each of the exercises is designed to help you come to terms with different aspects of poverty.

But what of spiritual poverty; what of loss of faith?

What if you are feeling, Where was God, where was the Universal Force when I needed Him, Her, It for………….? Have you found consolation, faith, trust no matter how terrible a thing you were facing, or are you still asking why He, She, It, whatever name you give the Creative Force abandoned you?

Have you asked yourself when you abandoned He, She, or It?

What do you feel about that? Is there deep sadness and loss inside you? Is there terrible, awful, wanting vengeance kind of anger inside of you? What would come out if you sat down, or had your character sit down for you, and wrote a letter to the Creative Spirit, the Universe, and say HEY, why did this happen to me? What purpose did this serve? Can you write down those questions whatever they are and then just let them go and listen for answers, taking down notes when they come and using those insights to enhance your life and your characters; move yourself and her/ him away from the spiritual poverty? Can you write a letter saying This is why I went away from you?

What about actual physical/economic poverty? Is that part of your experience? Do you know what it means to have more bills than you can possibly pay? Was that a temporary situation for you? Do you remember what it felt like? What if it was an ongoing situation? What if your family did what one man told me his family did when he was growing up with nine brothers and sisters? When the bills came they were thrown in the air over the table. Those that landed on the table were paid that month. What would living like this bring to your senses, to your self-image? Would it bring anger, desperation, a sense of futility, or even a determination to do something about it and like Katie Scarlet, make you swear you will never be hungry again? What price would you pay to never be "hungry" again for whatever it is that you lacked?

What about those of you who have been to war? What were the economic conditions where you were sent? What was your reaction to living conditions far removed from those you knew? Did those feelings have an impact on the way you felt about where you were; on how you felt about what you were sent to do? Perhaps if you saw extreme poverty it was confusing to you. Can you explain it what ways it was confusing? How did you deal with lack of sanitation; with lack of bathroom facilities that you were accustomed to? How do you feel about those who go back as helpers to a land where they once went as soldiers? If you were to go back, what would you want to see; what things might you want to do to find resolution with the past? Do you feel a need to help those you once fought beside, or even, against?

And what responsibility does the world have to work on eliminating physical and economic poverty? Do we, in fact, have a responsibility to others? Does someone else's poverty, be it physical, environmental, economic, spiritual, have an impact on us? Write a short story showing how hunger far away impacts on the lives of an average family in this country? What happens inside that family's house when they find out that their neighbors three doors down have no food?

Make a list of words, as many words as possible, that you feel best describe poverty of all kinds. Then read accounts of what poverty is in all areas by those who have not only suffered dark nights of the soul but have also gone to bed without food, or on the street. After you have done this, look around at what you have and ask yourself what words might best describe gratitude.

If we could end poverty overnight, put food on everyone's table, a roof over everyone's heads and give them all suddenly the skills to do a job that fit them, what would the world look like in the morning?

And would we still, even then, seek the Spiritual Connection, not content to have a half full cup when it came to the connection with the Creative Spirit? What drives us to that? And, if we turned that around, and somehow gave those who sought it the Spiritual Connection overnight, would they see it, appreciate it without working toward it; could they change the world with it?

Just questions for you and your character to ponder. Perhaps you can find the answers in your words, in your experience.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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