It was difficult to interview Fiona – my last interviewee of the day – because her personality was so bang opposite of Melanie, who I interviewed right before her. For one, she spoke thrice faster than Melanie and kept narrating her story in an intricate web of verbal chaos – sans chronology, sans context.
Over and over again, I had to steer her back to the issue of food insecurity – because although I know everything else feeds into it, there were a lot of other intricate personal details which she presented to me that I knew had no link whatsoever to her present situation. But she talked and talked and talked – akin to someone who speaks to herself – her face furrowed with many misfortunes that life had dumped on her.
She had a prolapsed uterus AND a prolapsed bladder that caused urine retention. So she went every week to a local hospital so they could put a catheter in her. Her son-in-law had thrown her out and her sons won’t keep her so she divided her time between two local homeless shelters, eating at a local non-profit that provided good, nutritious food. In the meantime, her car was parked forever at a church parking lot, because it had run out of everything – gas, license ... you name it.
In the midst of her incessant narration, Fiona would wipe the small expanse of the table in front of us with the crumpled tissue with which she was also wiping her nose. So it was no surprise that my middle-class identity (not to mention of my post-positivistic, journalistic past) was rising in me off and on with involuntary haste. (And boy, did I have a hard time wrestling with it!)
But with Fiona too, I asked the same question about her children – as I had asked Melanie.
Did they know she was homeless?
Why would they not take her in?
Because they won’t.
For someone long acquainted with misery – Fiona said she had faced food insecurity earlier in her life a couple of times – Fiona spoke without a tear. She said her faith helped her – her love of God.
But ending the interview, I had the same thoughts that I had after speaking with Melanie – the fact that there was something fundamentally wrong with a social order where family means so little; where someone can be abandoned on the streets without a second thought; where a son can leave his mother alone to scavenge for food and shelter, while leading a comfortable life.
A 19th century Indian spiritual master once said that God takes the form of one’s parents, nourishing and raising an individual. In this country, where there is no dearth of churches and relentless Jesus-mongering, I wondered who would bring home that message of parental divinity? Or, do I already hear an American reader snickering at my previous sentence?