Oprah: Inside the Lives of America’s Poor

23 Mar

I saw myself on Oprah yesterday.  Well, I saw the self
that I try to forget about, the part of me that I hide and pretend never
existed even though I don’t think I can ever forget it did.  I saw the
part of me that few people even know about, the part of me that most people are
somewhat shocked to hear about when I do actually tell them.  It is the
part of me that I am more likely to share with total strangers than with those
people whom I consider friends or even acquaintances. 

When I left home to go to college, I started over.  I made a new life for
myself, a life that most would consider “normal,” middle-class. 
But the fact of the matter is that I grew up poor, always on the brink of and
most of the time below the national poverty line.  There were times that I
didn’t know it because my mom worked so hard to give her children a
“normal” life, but there were also times when I knew the reality of
it all too well.  Times when I was afraid of what might happen to my
family, when I worried about where we would live or how we would pay for
things.  I knew what it felt like to get free lunch at school and to have
a classmate see my mom use food stamps in the grocery line, to wear clothes
that did not originally belong to me and to be pointed out as different, as not
good enough, as a poor kid, to be called white trash by people I went to school

I saw myself on Oprah yesterday, but I also saw other children who have worse
lives than I ever did, even at the lowest point.  I also saw my mom, a
single mom who worked three or four jobs, who deprived herself to give to her
children, who knew that there were others worse off and didn’t hesitate to help
them.  Some people looked down on her and judged her, but I know she did
the best that she could with what she was given.  My mom sacrificed
herself to give her children what they needed to break the cycle and live a
better life.  I know I had it better than
so many other kids, but I had it worse than almost all of the kids that I knew.

For many years, I have lived with both shame and guilt.  Shame because at
a young age I was taught that I wasn’t good enough, that other people were
better than me.  Shame because our society associates poverty with some
sort of moral or mental decay, or just plain laziness.  Shame because our
society believes that people live like that because they want to or because
they deserve it.  I feel guilt because sometimes I buy into that erroneous
belief.  Guilt because I hide a part of myself that has shaped me into the
person that I am now.  Guilt because I sometimes pretend to be someone
that I am not.  I also feel guilt for wanting more and for having more for
my life.  Guilt for moving ahead while others are left behind.  Guilt
because I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve the life that I have now because
I lived the life that I did then. 

What makes me special?  What makes me different from other children who
are caught in the cycle and can’t get out of it?  I know I’m not that
different.  I was blessed with an extended family that helped out when we
needed it without seeing us as a “charity case.”  I was blessed
with school teachers and church leaders and family who helped give me the
skills and the confidence and the hope that I needed in order to break
the cycle.  I was different, I am different, because I had hope. 

I don’t want to hide myself, or parts of myself,
anymore.  I don’t want to feel shame or guilt anymore.  I just want
to be.  And I want to give others that same hope that is so desperately
needed and so rarely seen inside the lives of America’s



6 Responses to “Oprah: Inside the Lives of America’s Poor”

  1. Anduril_Fury Friday, March 24, 2006 at 12:15 am #

    WOW. GREAT post. I don’t know where the old Laura is, but I like this one better. 🙂 See you crazy T-Town folks soon.

  2. kiminchina Friday, March 24, 2006 at 3:39 am #

    Wow-amazing.  I forgot what a good writer you are.  I really miss you!

  3. kac7 Friday, March 24, 2006 at 10:19 am #

    we have more in common than you know. we have to hang out more. i wish i didn’t work so much. softball practice is saturday at 10am……..so, be ready!!!

  4. willdabob Friday, March 24, 2006 at 1:11 pm #

    Touching in a profound way.

  5. Anonymous Sunday, March 26, 2006 at 10:17 am #

    Hey! This is Haily! I told you I was gonna get on and find you name…so I did! Well comment me! Love you! Laters!

  6. annahitt Thursday, March 30, 2006 at 6:31 pm #

    You make me very proud.  I love you.

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