Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Out of Touch

In an effort to reduce my codependency on the quality of my golf swing in determining my state of happiness in retirement, I spend my Friday mornings seeing clients at Manasota Legal Aid in Bradenton, Florida. This organization provides pro bono legal services to a variety of individuals whose income levels cannot exceed certain limits. My point in writing about this is not to focus on me, but rather to a rather startling wake up call I have received from sitting and listening to the various stories of these people. Example: Last Friday, my first appointment was with a man who, because of physical disabilities, is totally dependent on SSI to feed, clothe and shelter his family of four, including two small children. By way of background, please keep in mind that I drive approximately 15 miles from my very nice home in a gated community with three magnificent golf courses. The average car filling the golf courses' parking lot is somewhere between a Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV. Last Friday morning, the temperature in Bradenton was a chilly 45 degrees at 7 A.M. I think it was a few degrees colder during the night. This guy walks in and tells me that his electricity had been turned off by the utility company at 4 PM the previous day. The man and his family had been receiving limited assistance from a local charity who had run out of funds for the remainder of the year. During the course of our interview, I made calls to four different organizations whose purpose is to serve the needy. All four were out of money for the remainder of the year. I then called the utility and was placed in touch with a very nice lady who said she would do what she could to help this man and his family. This ended my legal relationship with this man, but I was dumbstruck with how out of touch with reality I had become. One can read about poverty in the United States or listen to the presidential candidates, but it isn't until a man sits face to face with you and describes what he goes through ("Can I borrow fifty cents so I can take the bus back home?") that the real impact of the problem touches a nerve. The bone-chilling thought of this young man huddled under blankets with his family in a near-freezing house as we approach our Thanksgiving holiday brings tears to my eyes. What can I do? What can we do? I know where I'm headed today after finishing my round of golf.

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