When I walked into the first house that responded to my cleaning ad, I was reminded of stories my mom often told us about families she interacted with through her job as a visiting nurse. She would tell us at the dinner table about furniture that reeked of cigarette smoke, piles of dirty dishes and laundry that lay everywhere, and about the obesity of the patients who she cared for. She would comment on the poor lifestyles she witnessed and her attitude made it clear that she had no compassion or understanding of the broader situation and systems at work. Of course I only realize this in hindsight, and at the time understood her stories to mean that the reason our family was healthy and well off was because of intelligent life decisions and hard work on the part of my parents. And how could I blame my mom for her assumptions? It is hard to see injustices from a place of privilege.
Although this house did not reek of cigarette smoke, there were certainly mountains of laundry on the floor, dishes scattered everywhere, food crusted on the floor, and the remains of fast food packaging under the couch cushions. The husband and wife of the household were both incredibly overweight and had three young kids, two of whom were heading in the same direction. My first thought was, “How could they possibly live like this, and treat themselves and their kids that way?” I viewed the situation as something I could never possibly relate to, not because of inherited, undeserved privileges, but because I could work hard enough to avoid it.
However, I can thank this class for forcing me to recognize these thoughts and to question them. I allowed them to run their course, to go through all the motions of bias, disbelief, hate, discrimination, anger and superiority, before I put them on a shelf in my mind where they would not be taken seriously unless backed by knowledge of the history of the family’s situation, or by the broader context of the conditions they were living in.
As I began to clean, Jackie, the mother, explained that she needed the house to be cleaned for CPS who came every week, but that she and her husband could not do it because of their respective health conditions. I didn’t want to pry, but she seemed willing to explain how things became so messy in the first place, literally and metaphorically. She and her husband had been in and out of the hospital for some time about a year ago, leaving their kids alone at home, and when a neighbor noticed the mess piling up they called CPS to get involved in the situation. Both Jackie and her husband are doing better now, but their financial situation is stressful due to hospital and medical bills and both of them being on disability, and they have the stress of proving that the living conditions are suitable for their children every week.
When Jackie asked me about religion and proceeded to hand me the Book of Mormon, or as she called it, “The greatest gift of my life,” all sorts of judgmental thoughts spun through my head about “how silly religion is and how crazy Mormons are”, but again this class gave me the patience to get over my bias and put the negative thoughts aside. Before taking this class I would have taken the book home and thrown it aside, then told all my friends about how another person tried to convert me. I realized, however, that all I really know about most religions is from what other people say about them, and that I haven’t actually read the bible or the Book of Mormon. I told Jackie that as soon as the semester came to a close that I would definitely pick up the book and read it, and I still plan to do that. From what she’s told me, the book has gotten her through many difficult times, and it’s what allowed her to maintain a compassionate attitude even when faced with unfair circumstances. Who knows, maybe it is the greatest gift I could receive?
Jackie and I have developed a good relationship, and I think we both appreciate the services we exchange, as well as the conversations we have. It was when Jackie told me “If you ever need a ride to school because of weather conditions, you call me and I’ll come pick you up” that I realized how I almost let my judgments and thoughts build a wall that would have prevented such a friendship. I wonder how many other opportunities and people pass us by because of our subconscious and stubborn mentalities?
I really want to thank everyone in the “F Word” for their contributions and challenges to the structures and labels of our society and for pointing out injustices in the culture we are swimming in. It has really taught me a lot about analyzing my own judgments and thought processes, and about having compassion for all people, even those who pass judgments like my mom did. Although I didn’t necessarily take action in relation to this situation, my plan is to understand this family more openly through the ideas from our class, as well as from exploring their values through their religion.