Downward mobility is one of the phrases used to describe the backlash to the consumerist “American Dream.” Websters says it’s moving to a lower social class; losing wealth and status.
And yet, there are many educated and socially conscious people who are making a choice to live outside of the cookie cutter box and in doing so are apart of the downward mobility movement. These are people who value quality over quantity, and community over individuality and those values drive most decisions. Ideally it’s co-op housing, pooling resources, urban gardens and community driven. It is youthful ambition and for many the decision is spiritually minded. For most, it is a naive assumption that they can “choose’ to live below their means without the stigma of ‘being poor.” It’s about having fortitude and being resourceful not poor. But, at some point or another the ideal becomes a reality, in more ways than they expected and poverty knocks at their door.
When we look back at our decision to downsize and become mobile it was very idealistic, romantic and for the first time in our married life we felt alive. Two years into this journey, we still feel alive and we know we are on the right path however, there are times when we question. The questions come during those moments when we feel like our choice is no longer a choice. One such moment came while at a grocery store recently. I had exactly $75 in my pocket and nothing more to spend. On a side note, in the past, we lived with credit debt and when I’d go shopping for groceries or anything within reason, I’d pull out my credit/debit card without blinking an eye. I wouldn’t pay much attention to prices or how much I was adding to my cart. Whether it was on my list or not, if I wanted it, I got it. Fast forward to cash in my pocket.
My daughter came with me and I had a list of about seven items to purchase. Once we entered the store, all sorts of other items ended up in my cart. We were shopping and totally engrossed in our conversation. When we got to the check out and the man rang up $189.00, I automatically began to pull out my pocket-book only to realize I had just the $75.00 in my pocket. I began to panic, the line was building up behind me and I had to decide what to do. I apologized to the teller and asked him if he’d put my order aside so I could run back to our bus and get my checkbook. He shrugged his shoulders with disappointment and set the cart off to the side. As we walked to the door, I felt so embarrassed. I’ve forgotten my purse in the past but always knew I’d be back with my credit card in hand. This time was different, I had no more money to come back with and I was contemplating walking out to never look back.
But, I needed the seven items on my list and I knew it was prideful to waste the gas to go to another store. And so, we stopped in the lobby of the store, composed ourselves, went back into the store, found our cart and began to pick through the items. We found the seven most important, figured that there might be a few extra’s we could add to the order and went back to the teller. By this point, the fella didn’t seemed pleased to have to go back through the order and delete most of the items. His manager was called over to help with the process and all eyes were upon us. As we rifled through the items watching the counter ring up closer and closer to our $75 dollar budget I had an overwhelming feeling of empathy for those who live like this on a daily basis. I know it was just a taste and that there are many who go without daily but it was a humbling moment. One that continues to go with me every time I go to the grocery store. I have gotten stronger and brighter when I reach the check out knowing that most likely I’ll have to put the top shelf back and that’s OK.
I am thankful for this process of understanding and the discipline that comes when we enter into the mystery. I am thankful that I can give a voice to the vulnerable feelings that one feels when there seems no recourse. I am thankful for those who come along side of us and share the burden. And, I am thankful for faith, grace and mercy.