Betty Duffy

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lazarus on My Doorstep

Something about Halloween bothers me. I’m not against the Holiday. It was always my favorite growing up, and my friends and I definitely trick-or-treated well into high school. Part of the fun was running around the neighborhood in the dark, smooching boyfriends, dressing up in tart outfits, and of course, the candy. Occasionally a grumpy old man would say, “You guys are too old to be trick-or-treating.” But we still felt young, and we mostly ignored the curmudgeons who would spoil our adolescent good time.

I will still give candy willingly to teenagers, as long as they are not wearing violent or graphic outfits (and even to those, I hand one meager piece of candy, just to get them off the step). But there are new trends in trick-or-treating that I’m not sure about: mainly, grown-ups, bona fide grown-ups, people my age, going door to door trick or treating. Sure, some of them will say, “It’s for my baby,” (who is asleep in the stroller, and too much trouble to remove at each house, and furthermore, if I get him out, you will see that he has no teeth and that this candy is clearly for me to eat for dinner for the next ten days).

I should be clear; this is a class issue. My husband and I moved away from a neighborhood on the near east side of Indianapolis three years ago, but my husband’s brother and his wife still live there, so that is where we go trick-or-treating. We go there because we still know a lot of our old neighbors, because we have no neighbors at our new house, and because there is a Catholic Church and school right in the middle of the neighborhood that puts on a little carnival for younger kids with trick-or-treating door to door in the classrooms of the school building. It’s a safe, one stop shop for young trick-or-treaters.

Certainly, we could drive to a more affluent neighborhood with hopes of getting more and better candy, but more and better candy for my kids is not a priority for me at Halloween. We try to stress the Eve of All Saints and All Souls days (the two holy days that follow Halloween), and also just give them the good time that the rest of America’s children enjoy.

America’s children are getting older and older. They are not growing up. They are looking for someone to feed them. And they want to be fed candy, not a warm bowl of soup.

Putting these thoughts into words, I wonder why I feel cynical about giving a piece of candy to an adult who is obviously in need of...something, while I willingly dole out treats to pampered children. My cynicism could have something to do with the fact that many of these adult trick-or-treaters are overweight. America must be the only place in the world where so many of the poor are fat. In this, I recognize my tendency towards class snobbery, and wanting to assert that the poor are somehow guilty and responsible for their own poverty, while I have knowlege that Jesus would not have troubled with assigning blame. There's no reason to expect the poor to be exempt from the original sin that affects all of humanity.

I'm only capable of ascribing the title "Blessed" to the literally starving people of the world, but for them I also feel a romanticized and certainly misguided envy that in their complete lack, they are somehow happier than I am. I want to say, "The poor you will always have with you," because we are all somehow poor. We are starving for beauty, for community, for love, and also for material support.

But I think these thoughts are a salve to me when I feel sad, like the rich young man, that I cannot (won't) give everything I own to the poor to follow Jesus. I hope that my tithe will somehow compensate for my relative wealth in relation to the truly needy and my uncertainty about how to best serve them.

I am absolutely content to consider my children the poor that I am actively called to serve, and to step over the poor man on my doorstep, or at least throw a conciliatory piece of candy in his bag and go back into the house.


Rebekka said...

Maybe it feels wrong because they are asking for candy under false pretenses. If they said "I'm hungry" - you would give it to them without a qualm. (Right?) I know for myself it fosters resentment to be cheated out of something I would have given willingly if I had been asked for it honestly.

P.S. It's not only in the US that the poor are fat, if that is any consolation. Europe is struggling to keep up.

Marie said...

I read something from Mother Theresa once where she was asked who she felt sorry for. She told the story of the woman in the nursing home in America, a nice place, well fed, plenty of comfort, who spent all day watching the door hoping someone was coming to visit her.

Yes, poor people in America are fat. That says something about deep our poverty is.

Toronto furniture said...

Hi. Interesting reading. I wasn't thinking much about these things before. I think that it's sad when poor adults come to trick or treat. Halloween is not about that. In my opinion, charity should help them if they are so hungry. And when we have too much candies also after Halloween, I'm sure that charity will know what to do with them.


Betty Duffy said...

Rebekka, I would happily give anyone food of any kind whether they are needy or not, and no matter what their pretenses are. I love to feed people. Maybe my resentment is aimed more at the bad manners this whole business entails. I don't like the begging aspect of Halloween, even for my own kids. I don't like the air of entitlement, even for my own kids. I don't like the failure of trick-or-treaters to thank their benefactors. And seeing all of these qualities present in grown-ups who are engaging in an activity that has been specifically designed for children--well, it all just feels wrong. Not to mention that it puts me face to face with the apparent need of certain members of our society, and handing them candy does not feel like the right way to meet their need.

I guess the outcome of this reflection is that I want to do more to serve the poor, and I need to investigate my options for doing so.

Marie, I agree with Mother Theresa, that loneliness is a true poverty.

Enbrethiliel said...


And I was worried about turning away the inevitable teenagers who just show up without costumes and expect to get as much candy as everyone else . . . =S

Do the grown ups you mention even bother with costumes, either theirs or their toothless babies'?

(I'm not helping your reflection much, am I?)

Pentimento said...

I'm not helping much either by being boring (and annoying), and suggesting that poor people in America are probably fat because the cheapest foods, and those that are available in neighborhoods without grocery stores, are the most fattening ones.

But maybe it is also as you suggest, Betty: that they are starving for real food, and filling themselves with what appears to be real but isn't. Sort of a metaphor for all of us.

Betty Duffy said...

I don't know about the cost of food thing, P. Maybe cost of living is higher in New York, but I shopped at the neighborhood grocery store, aka "Scary Kroger," and found that there was plenty of affordable healthy food. And there was even a local produce stand in what might be considered the nucleus of all this poverty. Failing money and food stamps, the Missionaries of Charity set up shop in this area to serve those who couldn't serve themselves, and social services were also present. I suppose if one lacks a refrigerator there might be cause to avoid fresh food and produce. But I admit to having gazed into the carts of my fellow shoppers and finding that like me, the poor have a taste for twinkies--which is absolutely normal. Who doesn't like sweets and sodas?

I'm prone to thinking that the unavailability excuse is a copout for a failure to make wise decisions about food. That the suffering and depressed often self-medicate with food is no mystery.

I think it is a different kind of poverty in the US, a moral one, and also a spiritual and intellectual one.

Pentimento said...

You're probably right, B.

Emily J. said...

I have to disagree, Betty. When white bread is $.99 and whole grain is $2.99, what are you going to buy? Ramen noodles or whole grain? Skinless boneless chicken breast or drumsticks? Real Juice for $5 or Sunny D for $2? Fresh fruit or canned or applesauce? or skip the fruit, and get some fruit snacks that kids like and don't waste. Healthy choices may be available at the grocery -in- the-hood where we sometimes shop, but they are priced considerably more, and the fresh food area doesn't look so fresh either.

Emily J. said...

p.s. I'm disagreeing on the food option - not that there exists intellectual and spiritual poverty of which choices in food/body enhancements among rich and poor are representative

Betty Duffy said...

Em J, for the sake of argument,
I regularly purchase whole wheat bread for less than a dollar when it is on clearance. I never buy juice because it costs $4, but sometimes I buy 100% fruit juice concentrate in the freezer section for less than a dollar. Whole wheat pastas are now less than $2. Unwashed lettuce (not the bagged kind) is 75 cents a head. Meat, at least where I shop, has a clearance option, and I buy only what's on sale and freeze. Things like berries and grapes are sometimes sketchy, but if you can't find a healthy looking banana for 49 cents a pound, you're not shopping in the right place. And who can't live on beans and rice if they need to for awhile.

There is always a choice to be made between price and convenience. And admittedly, I don't always shop so righteously, but when we need to cut back, it's really not hard to keep the nutrition in the grocery bill without the cost.

Betty Duffy said...

And since we're sparring, Sister, Ramen is really not that much cheaper than whole wheat when you consider portion/package. One little package of ramen realistically feeds one or two. One box of pasta can feed five or six. So there.

Emily J. said...

OK, en garde then, sister - I agree that there are healthy choices available if you have the time to shop them out and then prepare them, and the space to stock up on specials, and kids who'll eat them. But tell me if you saw many or any shoppers in your old neighborhood shopping that way? How often is the good bread or meat on sale, and when it is, you have to have the money ready to stock up. Most shoppers from I-ton (or in our case down the street)are probably working parents living paycheck to paycheck who need something to eat after school/work that is ready to eat fast and is filling. Are they going to buy even ground beef when they can go for the hot dogs? Eating well is a luxury that takes time, thought, and (slightly) more money. And, if on top of the paucity of choices, you haven't been educated about the differences in processed and real food, you're probably going to pick up the cheap, quick, arguably tastier food - and a pack of cigarettes - and head home.