Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
"We felt very nice and snug," says Ishmael in chapter 11 of Moby Dick,
The more so since it was so chilly out of doors; indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrastIf you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if, like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich.
I remembered this passage as the internet had some fun roasting poor Venusian Gwyneth Paltrow for her tone-deaf attempt to shop like someone on food stamps. She wanted to demonstrate how little food you could actually buy with your government benefits; but she ended up demonstrating that she actually has no clue what it means to be poor. Her shopping haul included mainly foods that are low-calorie, labor intensive, or relatively expensive: whole grain brown rice, a yam, an avocado, fresh cilantro and other greens, scallions, tomatoes, and -- in a bafflingly Paltrowish finale -- seven limes.
It was nice of her to make the effort, but the truth is that people on a tight food budget don't usually buy those foods. People on a tight budget often live in places where foods like this are not even for sale; and people on a tight budget are more likely to be pressed for time, may be limited in cooking skills, may not have a functional kitchen, may work in blue collar jobs that require high calorie diets, and may simply be too stressed and anxious to put together a meal that has more than an ingredient or two, never mind fresh cilantro.
So Paltrow's attempt at solidarity came across a bit Marie Antoinette-ish. But rather than being annoyed, poor people might consider feeling sorry for Paltrow. Why? Because of what Ishmael said, above. There are some joys that can only be felt when they glow in the midst of deprivation. Here are some pleasures Paltrow will probably never know:
1. The regal sensation of cruising around town in a car that is legal, exquisitely legal, after months and months of skulking around like a light-footed, mirror-checking, turn-signal-using simp, hoping not to attract attention to your inspection sticker that's last year's color.
2. The invisible, celebratory fireworks that explode in your head when the credit card machine says, "APPROVED."
3. When the nearest grocery store starts offering a special half-price rack of wilted spinach, dented tuna cans, and danishes that somebody stepped on, and "half" describes your budget to a T.
4. The smug satisfaction of reading some lame list of budgeting tips and money-saving plans, and knowing you've got them covered when you're feeling expansive, never mind when you're feeling squeezed.
5. Hitting the Salvation Army just in time to score a pair of shoes that are your size AND that aren't humiliating.
6. The lucky break of running out of gas when you're uphill from a gas station. Quick squirt of gas, get in mah tank!
7. Realizing that a kid's birthday falls on a day when your town is offering some extravagant, pleasant, and most of all free event, like fireworks, a parade, or free Squishee day.
8. The safari-like adventure of coasting stealthily around a ritzy neighborhood, scoping out your future furniture on the evening before trash day. Bonus thrill: seeing a perfectly good three-legged couch on the curb and grandly TURNING IT DOWN, because you already HAVE a three-legged couch, thank you so much.
9. Deciding that, just this once, you're going to turn up the heat until you can feel the heat, not just until you can feel your fingers and toes again.
10. Coming up with ten jokes easily, without having to strain for it, just like a rich person. What.
Hey, I'd trade any one of these joys for seven limes any day. However, just to show that there's no hard feelings, I'm willing to make Paltrow an offer: if someone else pays for it, I'm willing to see how well I can survive on HER budget for a week. I'll even take pictures and put them on Twitter. Solidarity!