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My husband and I are in the middle of redoing our kitchen. Not fun. We are entering our sixth week and are almost done. Most people tell me that is incredibly quick, but to me it has felt like a burden and an eternity. That is, until I embarrassed myself into a moment of grace while standing in front of my slightly-too-peach granite countertop over the weekend.
My poor husband and kids have listened to the litany of reasons I’ve hated going through this process. Dust everywhere. Cramped. Inconvenient. The new oven door looks a little crooked. The painter only primed today and now he has to come back again...
On Sunday, I finally broke down and cried. I think it was when the doorbell stopped working, but I’m not sure. I was standing in the kitchen, my six year-old watching from the door, and I cried. My sobs echoed back at me through her eyes, and I finally had the good sense to be mortified.
I have been president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston for nine months. In that time, a few vicious realities have struck me dumb. The first is how incredibly hard it is to be poor. Poverty is an aggressive, malignant force; it preys on families like a cancer, and particularly hates children. When it gets hold of a family, escape feels nearly impossible.
The second is that it is getting tougher for the poor by the day. Think about how much it cost to heat your home this winter. I have thought a lot about how much it cost to heat mine -- the insulation in my new kitchen is supposed to make it a little less expensive next winter. But how many of us could have found a way to quickly increase our incomes this winter to offset the ballooning cost of fuel, food and heat? Now imagine if you’d been living on the very edge last September before the heating season even started, with barely enough money by the end of the month to buy groceries. Our food pantry at Columbia and Geneva in Dorchester is serving 25 more families per month right now and we’ve capped the increase because it is all we can do.
The third is that, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The same is true for everyone I know who has been lucky enough to escape the crush of neglect, vulnerability and need.
Since coming to Charities, I have relearned much of what I thought I knew about those three facts. I have struggled alongside my colleagues to keep those realities dead center in my sites, and to dedicate my professional life to changing them.
In the meantime, I also have tried to teach those life lessons to my children, which is why I finally had the good sense to be embarrassed in my kitchen -- my perfect, state of the art kitchen, one that promises ample storage and cooking capacity presented in a beautiful and indestructible package. In that room, I did not find the grace of God. I found that I had lost it somewhere over the weekend in the midst of shuffling through boxes and discovering that the grate for my brand new stove downdraft was missing.
But, thankfully, I found it again in my daughter’s eyes, as I was shamed by what I was teaching her in that moment, and overwhelmed at the grace of having her in my life and being able to provide for her needs.
And I will find it again when I return to work tomorrow, and we resume our daily attempts to help poor, working families keep it together in any kitchen at all.
Tiziana Dearing is President of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston.