Wednesday, June 07, 2006
My neighborhood is very diverse, both in ethnicity and economy. There are all kinds of houses here. Mansions. Dumps. Houses that have landscaping, houses that are simply neat and tidy. Houses with loud paint jobs (like the orange one on my block).
But there's one house I can't stop thinking about. Maybe it's because its owners are people I care about. People who are poor and struggling, who just gave birth to kid number 8 or 9.
About 10 years ago, while still a student in yeshiva, my dorm counselor spent a shabbos meal with a large family. She came home and told me about their poverty, but also about their cleanliness. She said the house was spotless, their clothes worn but neat. "There's a huge difference between being poor and being slovenly," she noted. "They're not always hand-in-hand."
I don't know why her comment struck me so, but it did. I never forgot it. And I think of it whenever I pass this family's home. I feel so depressed when I see it. The rusted-out cars in the driveway, the heaps of stuff on the porch. The old shelves, piled with junk, sitting outside. The dark clutter that looms inside. I want to fix it!
But now that I write about it, I realize it's not the house that needs fixing. There must be some kind of pathology behind the mess. Because even when Yaakov had no jobby-job for 9 months, our Brooklyn apartment was neat as a button. Like my dorm counselor said, it's not always a hand-in-hand kinda thing.
Now, I understand I'm extra-sensitive towards this issue. I admit, I'm a neat-freak. I don't leave my house in the mornings until the house is tidy: Floors swept, beds made, dishes washed. I understand that my proclivity towards cleanliness makes me more upset by their situation.
But I also feel weirded out by the fact that there are other large families here. Ones who have nice homes, and full time help. Why did G-d make it this way? Why should some have so much and some have so little? How is it that we all live in the same neighborhood?
It makes me feel defeated.