Years ago I got from the video store a post-war Italian film titled “The Bicycle Thief”, one of those movies you always hear is a classic. I have learned that stuff that has stood the test of time is best, and the film more than lived up to its reputation.
“The Bicycle Thief” is not about a bicycle thief, but the man who has his bike stolen. He is a young man in Italy just after World War II. He has a wife and a small boy who worships him. He has no job, and the family isn’t starving, but only just surviving on what assistance they get. Then he gets a big break- a job putting up posters, but he needs his bicycle for the job. His bike is in pawn, so his wife sells the sheets and he gets it back. He is very happy, and even more so his son.
Soon the bicycle is stolen, and the temporary happiness turns to agony and despair. The man and his son set out on a search around the city for the bicycle thief and the bicycle. Having been painfully broke and unemployed, and having had several bicycles stolen from me, I found the film horribly painful to watch. I would watch about five minutes then stop, so it took me most of a day to see the whole thing. The desperation of the man, the childish hope of his son, the range of reactions from people he asks for help- from a very mild interest, the willingness to take a moment, to mild to hostile indifference, glimmers of hope that quickly fade- it’s all horribly real, and horribly painful to watch.
The movie shows the thin line between fearful, humiliating want and decent comfort. I have spent my life passing back and forth over this line. There is a world of difference between being able to pay for what you need, and a little of what you want, and knowing it will be there tomorrow, and the day after, and worrying about surviving every day.
Lots of people pray for a job, or some small windfall. Some preachers tell people these things are blessings from God, and God wants them to have them. They say that being poor is not good, and God does not want them to suffer and be poor.
This idea is roundly mocked by many. I don’t think they have any idea what it means to be under heavy financial stress, for a long time. Being poor and being rich are both heavy test of a man, which is why the man in Proverbs prays to be neither.
I hope God wants us to all have good things, but I understand that for a lot of people, they will never have anything, not even their basic needs. I pray that humble hopeful people will get what they need, and a little extra, and they can thank God for it. For those who must go without, I pray they will understand God has not forgotten them and they will have good things in good time.