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My life on the streets

As a young lady, my mother dreamed of becoming a pianist. She showed enough promise at this that when her father lost a leg to diabetes and could no longer work, her piano teacher offered to continue giving her lessons for free.

Her mother would hear nothing of it.

"We don't need any charity," She bristled.

Of course she was lying. A sudden loss beyond her control. A need for a little help over the hump. Theirs was as honest a case for charity as any. But her sense of pride would not let her admit it. So, my mother's musical development came to an abrupt halt and instead of her dream career, bathed in the footlights of a concert stage, one thing after another, she ended up struggling to raise my brother and me on her own.

The arc of these events conveyed to me for the first time that a separate set of rules exists for the poor. Pride, for example--which they took pains in Sunday school to drum into my head as being among the deadly sins--was, for the poor, a virtue. And Charity, championed--during those same Sunday sessions--as one of the highest virtues of the heart was, in practice, a thing tinged with shame.

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