An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

While attending BYU, our daughter Lolly lived in a non-BYU-approved basement apartment several miles from campus. The upstairs was rented to a single mother of four pre-school to elementary-age kids. Mindy, the mother, was friendly and took good care of her kids. In other ways she fit the welfare mom stereotype. She had a succession of boy friends who often stayed overnight. The pizza delivery truck brought dinner several nights a week, and beer bottles filled her garbage can after a boy friend’s visit.

Mindy couldn’t pay her phone bill and for several months borrowed the phone in the basement apartment to make calls. I criticized Mindy for setting a bad example for her kids and wondered why she didn’t pull herself together, get rid of the boy friend, stop spending her money on beer and pizza, and get a job.

Lolly shook her head. “Even if she gave up her boy friend, beer, and pizza, Mindy wouldn’t have your life, Mom.”  Lolly was right. Mindy had no car and the nearest grocery store was two miles away. She probably couldn’t get a job that would pay enough to cover baby sitting. The boy friend provided transportation and probably cash for the beer and pizza.  

Living my Mormon values of Word of Wisdom and chastity would not improve Mindy’s life. I had an education, a good job, a house, a car, a husband—none of which Mindy had. Mindy was trapped in poverty from which she couldn’t escape without help with childcare, job training, and transportation.  Mindy was surviving a difficult situation, not as I would, but in the best—probably the only way—she knew.

I don’t know how to help the Mindys of the world. Churches can offer guidance and emotional support, but few have the resources to help destitute people gain financial independence. Of course, not everyone in need is inclined to organized religion—and God doesn’t seem to help people of one faith over those of another. Government programs which provide job training and assistance work for some but not all. There will always be people willing to shift their responsibilities onto others, but does that mean we shouldn’t provide help for any? I don’t have the answers, but Lolly opened my eyes to the fact that it is arrogant to judge people who lack the advantages I’ve had and who may be doing the best they can within their limited circumstances.

Comments on: "She Wouldn’t Have Your Life" (4)

  1. Right now our bags are packed to travel out of state where an in-law-nephew passed away yesterday. Hubby is the pretty much the only next-of-kin. The man died a pauper. Being the end of the month I am fairly certain that there won’t be a nickle left in his bare apartment. He led a tragic life. Many opportunities were available but in sixty years he just never could pull himself up and out of the hole he was in.

    As I told my mom about it she just couldn’t understand how someone could live that way. All her life she has enjoyed the benefits of being comfy-middle-class. She has never been exposed to real poverty.

    Thank heavens for social programs that will help the less fortunate. It’s sad that so many slip through the cracks. The state will take care of the nephew’s remains, there will be no services and the end of his life will go unnoticed except by a handful of people.

    In a few days I will drive home in my comfortable car to my comfortable home. I will have food to eat and warm clothes to wear. For that I will be grateful and try to always remember how fortunate I am.

    • Numi-

      Thank you for expressing your thoughts of this unfortunate nephew so beautifully. True spirituality is being able to recognize the problems of others without judgment.

  2. It’s a seriously interesting thought that any give means of living cannot possibly be the only true means. How much closer is Mindy to the way humans have lived for eons? Yet humans have this amazing ability ot adapt and become adept/accustomed to new means — and then, not suprisingly I think, see the former as savages. That too must be part of our success.

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