Strawberries and Privilege

In this period of isolation, time gets blurry. It’s hard to believe that only two weeks ago I was in sunny Florida. Aside from the great pleasure of dipping my feet into the Gulf of Mexico, enjoying a powdery white beach with my old friends, and appreciating the antics of shore bird life, the treat of ripe, fresh, flavorful produce in the dead of winter was especially gratifying. I loved the strawberries and golden pineapple. Healthy, sweet and firm fruits and vegetables are part of life’s pleasures. That is, if you’re lucky.

My friend and I spent a few hours strolling through a lovely farmer’s market where the abundance of food, baked goods and crafts were both a palate-pleasing and a visual treat. In my part of the world there are brief periods of time when seasonal lush fruits appear at my local market but truly, they pale in comparison to what I tasted in the heart of strawberry country. When I returned from my trip, the shelter in place rules were really ramping up. I made a trip to the closest supermarket and got enough supplies to last a few weeks. But the perishable items go quickly. By yesterday, I was craving strawberries.

Can a fruit have emotional significance? The picture above is my mother and her younger sister. I don’t have many photos of my mom in her early life. She told lots of stories about her childhood. When she was born she was very tiny and her mother told her she looked like a little rat. That was just the beginning of the conflictual relationship between the two of them. My grandmother had eight live births. Mom was number four. Her sister Gertrude was three years younger. Gertrude died of a heart defect caused by rheumatic fever when she was 10 and my mom was thirteen. One of the great traumas of mom’s young life. Always a fussy eater, apparently nothing improved after that loss. A person who was sick frequently, she always said her issues were probably caused in part by her rotten diet. She always said she would only eat a chicken leg, an ear of corn and as many sweets as she could get. But she loved strawberries. I heard her tales so many times when I was growing up. After awhile, perhaps by some strange osmosis, I always associated strawberries with her, tying them to a familial connection that went beyond simply enjoying them. Sometimes I just really need them although they’re not what I’d call a traditional comfort food.

In my community, grocery deliveries, which had been available for awhile, are now doing thriving business as people hunker down at home. There are delivery fees and tips involved but for me, a person who really hates shopping, the extra costs are worth it. So I placed an order, hoping that in this time of hoarding and empty grocery shelves, I’d get at least some of my requests. Your shopper communicates with you via text message and sometimes there are misunderstandings. But in the end, when my delivery came, I had a container of organic strawberries, large, red and unbruised, and twice as much as I’d ordered. No big deal.

I set aside enough for me to consume two servings for two days and split the rest into freezer bags to be enjoyed later. I was really delighted to be “strawberry secure” for a time. That is until I started feeling guilty about the advantages of my privilege. People all over the world are hungry and I’m busy with my berries. That’s kind of grotesque. I suppose that giving myself a treat doesn’t make me a terrible person. But I don’t want to be so self-involved that I forget the bigger picture. Guilty thoughts routinely enter my consciousness. Mostly I’m glad that they do. I never want to get so encapsulated in those unconscious bubbles of existence which isolate people, making them able to see the world through their own very limited lenses. That kind of thinking creeps up on you. Suddenly you just can’t understand how what other people believe and what they do and why they’re so different from you. And most especially, how many live because of their economic limits. When you forget your advantages, it’s easy to be unaware of the challenges facing others who aren’t so lucky. So often I see people making assumptions that everyone around them shares their views and their means while they unconsciously send messages that are tone-deaf and alienating. I don’t want to be them.

Awareness is a tough task to accomplish on a daily basis. Our lives, our wants, our needs, and our means shape the way we process the world. I think that for me, my most significant privilege stems from my ability to think clearly, at least most of the time. I get to assess myself and recognize that relative to what’s happening to so many others, I’m doing pretty well. I can take the occasional trip. I can order groceries for delivery. My water comes on when I twist a faucet. My furnace works. I have a television that turns on. I have a car. And I can pay for gas to put in its tank. At this moment, when a mutant virus has turned the world into a quarantine camp, I am not presently being treated for cancer or some other life-compromising disease. What extra unimaginable fear comes with that?

Every few weeks, a woman comes to my house and cleans all the stuff that I can’t manage as well as I used to when I was young. The fact is, my house is too big for me now. But who would move when their grandchildren live right across the street? That’s another privilege – having a child who liked you enough to build a life right next to yours. So with the social distancing, I had to cancel my helper. But I paid her anyway. There wasn’t even a question about that. She may be illegal for all I know. What I do know is that she has no economic backup. I could never have let her go without income. Again I think of my privilege. I worked for a long time and earned my way to a sustaining pension. What happens in the investment world has no impact on me. I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. Yet my checks will come. And I can order strawberries from the grocery store.

I drove around for awhile today and looked at the world. I was thinking about how even with some of the hassles on my current life list, I’m doing okay. I know that tomorrow could bring anything. But for now, I’m grateful for my privileged life.

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