Friday, January 28, 2011

One in a million

I covered a meeting last night, the topic was "Is Berkshire County sick?" Intriguing, right? From my neutral journalist's perspective my immediate reaction was "Of course it's sick, look around you." At which point, I sat in wait to hear statistics and ideas and health care jargon while attempting to snap some kind of action shot.

The attending crowd, a polite, fairly graying bunch mostly topping 50, nodded and tsked and shook their heads as one doctor after the other presented some pretty alarming statistics about our quaint little "resort" community. I think "last resort" might be the most appropriate term.

I attempted to remain calm and neutral while the numbers were presented, yet each percentage rattled in my head. Each percentage was an affront to my dignity. Inside, the journalist melted and spilled out of the mold. I was no longer neutral. I was a number, several numbers, at which people shook their heads, myself included.

15% of children under age 18 live in poverty here--my own children are among them.
10,000 require mental health services every year--I am one of them
11% of households are single parent--check

And on and on, for every topic--cancer, teen suicide, smoking, stress, access to nutrition, income inequality, there we were, my little family of three. I eventually stopped writing and just listened, every now and then hiding behind my camera for warmth.

"How the hell am I gonna crawl out of this hole," I thought.

The ride home was somber. I was thinking about a conversation I had earlier in the day. For once, someone was asking ME questions about MY life.

"This is weird," I'd said. "I'm always the one asking the questions." Nervous laughter.

He shook his head and put pulled at his beard a little.

"I'm really sorry that you're struggling this much," he said. "And you're so young."

I was grateful for the acknowledgment of the struggle, but could've done without the tailspin of thoughts that followed. I'm so busy making sure that our little heads stay above the water that I forget that I'm actually swimming, hard, for months at a time.

However, I find hope in the fact that eventually, most of us jump in the same boat. We reach for the ones who are struggling and the stronger ones row us to shore. Yes, my little family is a census-taker's wet dream and a social service agency's worst nightmare. But I don't see that, not really, when I look at myself and the kids.

I see the only person in her whole family who went to college and finished and then went to grad school. I see a little boy with the mind of a mad genius. I see a young woman, who, by her mere existence, breaks racial and social barriers every day with gusto and a great hat. I see a woman who makes the right choices every day and sticks by them. I see a fierce mother who will do anything to make sure her children are healthy and happy and warm. I still see a future for us.

Percentages have their place, just not at my kitchen table.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nichole,

    I agree with you on this one. It is important to reach out hand help others when they are in need. It is interesting that you are playing the role of the individual receiving questions rather than asking questions. I have fallen on the same boat as well. I used to write for a few websites, and I was always the one asking the questins. Now, people are asking me the questions that I used to ask them. Personally, I like to keep my information as private as possible, so I do not have anyone interfere with my affairs or hurt my feelings. I have had that experience as well, where someone tries to interfere with my personal affairs and I do not feel like talking. I have gotten in trouble for this in the past and I have managed to bail my way out of these situations, usually by running away.

    Hope all is well,

    Jon Swartz