What would you do if you needed underwear and couldn’t get it?

I sat in on a women’s employment support program today, as I do most weeks. Its a good program, designed to help women job search wisely, and build confidence, and provide networking opportunities.

I sat with a woman who is homeless, as in camping out of a truck for years. Getting to these meetings, which involve finding a place daily to shower, clean clothes, walking quite a distance, etc. She is motivated to find work, to improve her situation. But today she was crying, as she described her feelings of shame at coming to Dress for Success, where women can get job interview clothing and interview practice, to ask for new underwear. She was sobbing, describing the experience.

I feel embarrassed daily, on some level. I say something idiotic, or I think, after the fact that what I said was more idiotic than it was, I trip in public going up the stairs, I bang into doorways, I don’t know things I feel I should know, my hair gets frizzy…..

But I have never felt the shame of having to ask for free underwear because I literally had none and no means for the foreseeable future to get some. I have never had a bad smell due to lack of hygiene but no way to do laundry or properly and privately wash myself. Well, except for that one trip to Swaziland, where I think I went for 10 days with no shower due to water shortage, but I elected to go even knowing hygiene would be difficult. I made the choice, and it was temporary, that makes a difference.

Other than that trip the biggest hassle I have ever had was having to make the choice between walking half a mile to the laundromat or washing clothes in the bathtub. But I had quarters for the laundromat, I had soap, I had a tub, and enough private space to hang dry. The choice was not fraught in any way. I generally chose to tub wash, if your curious, because at the laundromat you have to stay with your clothes, and I had other things I wanted to do, like go to the pool. First World problems, privileged problems.

Not that I haven’t had real problems, soul wrenching decisions to make, but I never had to make those decisions regarding laundry.

The tears over the need for panties hit home for me. I can honestly say I felt as proud of this woman for her courage to ask, to fix her own problem even if it was difficult and she felt ashamed. I am proud of her candor and honesty, of her determination to keep going each day, jumping through hoops to get the most basic things done.

I am also humbled. I take way too much for granted.

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