Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ralph's story: My food-insecure interviewee of the day

For anonymity’s sake, I will call him Ralph – a Purdue alum who once had everything he needed in life, until a rare form of arthritis debilitated him, elbowing him out of the workforce and leaving him in his present condition – homeless.

Like my earlier interviewee, Laura, Ralph too had no bitterness in him, no animosity towards a system that had few safety nets for sick people, no one to blame, no anger at all – which surprised me – yet again. How does one do it? I wondered. But Ralph seemed to have no clear answer for his positive outlook. All he said was that when one suddenly found himself in a predicament like the one he was facing, one simply survived it – a simple choice between sink or swim.

Unlike Laura, however, Ralph has no family members – being the only child of deceased parents who were the only children of their parents. He never married and is in no relationship at present. His friends – about five, who hadn’t drifted away – help him with gas for his vehicle and the little money he needs to pay for car insurance. For food, Ralph goes to a local organization where he can eat his three meals a day free of cost, five days a week. For shelter, he couch surfs at his friends’ houses or sleeps at the back of his truck.

As a person who likes his apartment especially warm during winter, it was difficult listening to Ralph talk about sleeping under five blankets and a tent-like cover at the back of his truck during most of this year’s mild winter. On really cold nights, he would go to his friends for shelter.

What was apparent and inspiring in Ralph’s story was that he didn’t look at his problems as a long-term issue and let them pull him down. He had plans to get back to work – as soon as his arthritis would let him. That was a lesson for me – someone who never tires of agonizing over the financial pressures of being a married graduate student, in spite of knowing it’s a problem that won’t last forever.

It was also interesting to note, that unlike my earlier interviewee, Ralph’s positivity did not come from any spiritual roots – AT ALL!!! He openly articulated his dislike for organized religion – something I could totally identify with – including the “Hare Krishna movement” (hearing which I chuckled, since I’m a Hindu)! In Ralph, I saw that streak of logical self-reliance that I’ve noticed before in people who don’t bother a lot about religion and God.

So in contrast to my last blog, let me leave you with these questions that came to my mind as I drove home: When in dire distress, does one’s spirituality serve as a crucial crutch without which one can’t traverse the thorny road ahead? Or, is someone -- who has no expectations from a Higher Power -- better off while negotiating misery simply because he gives himself no false hopes, and entertains no false notions of having a Helper when actually there is none?


David A said...

These are inspiring stories-- again. Without simplifying or exaggerating the comments, I again find myself questioning my own reliance on 'things'. This is not to say that your interviewee has taken a voluntary position on the issue (it would be unfair, or inappropriate, to glorify this). Your final comment/question echos some of the questions I have asked myself while reading-- can an individual facing similar situation sustain themselves without spirituality/religion. Absent a belief in a final accounting, how can you frame/talk about your 'situation'? Again, these are gross oversimplifications on my part.

Soumitro Sen said...

Thank you for your comments and appreciation. But I do think, the people in these stories are the ones who should get all the appreciation for the way they soldier on in life.