Ma’s walker barely fit in the cramped office. I searched the charity administrator’s face for frown lines scrunched with judgment. I listened carefully to her voice for a condescending tone. I was preparing for battle, one to match my inner turmoil. But her eyes were compassionate. There would be no war.

As my mother spoke, my mind trailed off into the stories I wanted to tell — how just a few years ago I owned a small retail store. How responsible I was when I paid off my mortgage and paid the down payment for my mother’s house.  Or my son’s trust fund that I’d managed for the past 10 years. I wanted her to know that we weren’t one of “them.”

Instead we told stories of a 75-year-old retiree, of bills that exceed a fixed income, and of cancer, dialysis and impossible choices – choosing between refilling cancer medication or paying a utility bill; too-high health insurance deductible or too-high premiums; between a daughter spending her time earning a paycheck or caring for her mother and children.

We told the stories of the masses, the working poor…them and us.

She carefully listened to our stories, the burdens we lay at her feet and the question laid on her heart — Can you help us?