I met a new client this morning in her home. We’d met on the phone a couple times over the past few months. She was having trouble trusting me. I am an insurance agent, though, to her credit. That’s the funny thing. I have spent my life becoming the most honest version of me, both internally and externally. I then decided to challenge my authenticity further by becoming an insurance agent. And every day I swear I learn something. Something about people, their reactions, about me.
This woman’s home was small and smelled of cigarettes. Like maybe her home was a cigarette. She was in her nightgown. And her home had two beds in the main room. One was hers, and the other still had a moving body in it. I gently said, “Oh no, will I wake someone up?” She said no. I glanced over one more time. I get one uncomfortable glance towards something that seems odd. For safety reasons. And if I feel safe, I concentrate on nothing but why I am there.
I concentrate on the matter at hand, which is simply that we are signing her up for an insurance plan. And it’s been several conversations and me de-escalating fears on her end. But that’s my job.
She made a comment like, “Welcome to my campground.” I smile and laugh only very slightly. She is drawing attention to what she feels isn’t what she wants to represent. A part of me can understand this. I have two sets of couches and a carpet on top of another in my home right now. And it feels like a garage sale. And I don’t really want anyone to see it until the rest of the new couches come… COVID, you know.
Anyway, I laugh for only a moment, a very polite moment because I am not going to deny what I see. She will see through that. But I acknowledged her. And then said, “no, it’s perfect.” She ushered me to the only chair in the room and a small table.
And I begin to concentrate on making sure I treat her with respect and dignity. It’s not that I don’t remember how to do those things. It’s that I know if she’s uncomfortable, then me looking about at the things hanging from the closet door or the clothes on the ironing table next to my chair or the black on the ceiling doesn’t really matter. Yes, I saw it all without looking. But it really doesn’t matter. And I want to be the person who sees, who doesn’t deny reality, but treats each person with the greatest respect. We all have a story. We all have places we don’t want others to see. She has to be so brave to ask for help and then be this vulnerable with a complete stranger.
The person sleeping on the other bed 20 feet away keeps moving and mumbling periodically. I glance over as the comforter with no face said hello, but there was no one there to see. I wasn’t scared. My client’s body movements told me she wasn’t scary, nor was the person in the bed.
I used to cry when I left places of poverty. But I’m too old and too well-lived to feel sorry for people anymore. That’s the last thing I want to feel. And it’s the very last thing they want or need from me. Pity is arrogance. It’s the idea that we feel we need to bestow some sort of downward glance, when really we’re about the same. Differing levels of shame, differing levels of coping, different things we need from each other. We all have that friend we don’t need anyone to meet. Mine just aren’t 20 feet away from my single dining room chair in a bed, in my living room.
We’re all the damn same. But I can tell you, I forget. We are all the same, and vastly different. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen poverty. My business has grown to include referrals from different places than this. And I missed it. I forget that we don’t see people outside our small worlds, made smaller by COVID. I forget that we sometimes have to remind ourselves how we have more than we think, that dignity is just how we wear what’s in our closet. We forget that the world is more diverse than even we can imagine, what we can see, what we’ve ever seen.
For a moment today, take a look around. See the things you have, the things you hide, the things of which you still dream. It’s all relative, my dear. But be grateful if what you have is really everything you need.