Friday, June 29, 2007

Helpless Desperation

The Strangers who enter my life, often, end up allowing me to put my life in perspective.

A couple in their mid-forties dropped by the office yesterday seeking information, and answers.

At first glance he looked healthy and strong, until I happened to glance down, and noticed he was using a walker, and had a brace on his right leg. She just looked...sad, very sad.

The husband, had injured his back well over a year ago, a very bad injury it seems. He has endured 3 surgeries since that time. Now, his spine has been fused, and he lacks the complete use of his legs. For a while, he received workers compensation, and is currently on short-term disability. She is a stay-at-home mom, who also home schools their 3 children. They have almost depleted their life savings, and have cashed in their IRAs, with enough left over to, hopefully, continue making the mortgage payments on their home for the next few months.

The very small community they live in, an hour's drive south of me, has rallied round them. Providing food, and small donations to help them in their time of need. They did OK, not great, but OK, for the first ten months or so. But, now, they are facing the end of their funds. They feel as if they can ask no more of their family, friends, and community. His place of employment has decided he must prove he can no longer work, (one only has to look at him to see the pain flash across his face as he attempts to ambulate across a room). He was accepting when his company told him that his disability and workers comp are running out. To offset that, since he is almost recovered from his last surgery, he requested of them to find him another job in the company, he didn't care what, just one that he is capable of doing. He can now sit for a several hours at a time, his arms, and hands still work, his brain is fully functional. Yet they told him, they have nothing, no jobs available that match his new capabilities. Interestingly, the company just used a temporary employment firm to hire two new receptionists. So, he asked of them...why couldn't he be trained to do that job? The answer was, they wanted someone with experience. OK.

This man has worked for the company for almost 20 years. He knows the ins and outs of all the departments, of the factory side, and much of the administrative side. Is that not the right kind of experience? I am clueless as to why he cannot be hired in and trained (the summer before my senior year of high school, I worked as a receptionist, I was shown my desk, how to use the phone system, and given a list of names and their extensions, I managed, they even sent me a letter when I left, thanking me for a job well done), I have no understanding as to why this company cannot take care of their own, he is willing to work after all.

I spent over an hour with this couple, searching through every resource I could think of to find them some kind of financial or health care related aid. But, alas, they still have too much money in the bank to receive any government aid. He has not been disabled long enough to be approved for Social Security Disability. His wife commented...she is looking for a job, but since she has always been home with their children, and only has a high school diploma, she does not expect to find a position that will pay more than minimum wage.

He is extremely frustrated, I witnessed his feelings of bitterness, his expressions of frustration with his employer, and the government, his frustration and anger were so intense at times, I felt as if they were partially directed at me. But there was a moment that had my eyes filling with tears. When his eyes filled with tears, and he stated in voice that started out strong but faded to almost a whisper, "I have always prided myself on my ability to provide for my family, now I can't, I can't."

As he spoke, his wife's eyes filled also, overflowed, and with glistening trails of tears sliding down her cheeks, she said, "He tries so hard, but he gets so frustrated, this new inability to accomplish the things he used to do, and the pain he has to live with, are just too much. But...the hardest thing of all is...we used to be the ones that donated to people in need. We used to be the ones that gave the gift of Christmas to a needy family. But...this past was our name on the was us who had no money to buy our children was us who needed the food to prepare Christmas dinner."

A friend of mine has often stated the following in regard to giving and receiving whether in regard to help, or gifts..."Take what is offered when offered...give when you can as you can...accept happy with both...then everyone is happy." I told them both this, it didn't help them, but maybe, it will make it easier to ask for help.

I looked at this man, and woman, and my heart sank, because no matter how I tried. I could find no resources for them to qualify for, I had no answers that they had not already tried, I could not help them.

And, through it all, I kept thinking...there are so many, so many of us, that think we are prepared for what ever life throws our way. But, are we? I wondered, how would I react if I found myself in the same situation? Would I be able to find the strength to bury my pride and ask for help?

The couple I met yesterday opened my eyes to many things.

One being: I speak daily with so many people, who have no other recourse, but to ask the aid of strangers (me and others like me), and there have been times when I have judged them. I have judged them because they come across as being full of bravado, anger, self-justification, sometimes that anger is directed toward me because I am the bearer of bad news, no answers that help. There are those I have met, that sometimes, exhibit what appears to be a sense of entitlement, it feels as if they think they are entitled to any and all financial aid available, and my following the guidelines is just an excuse for me (or other's like me) to tell them "no, sorry, it's not gonna happen." I take no pleasure in turning someone down for funding, especially those who I know are desperate.

But, most of these strangers in need, that must gather the courage to face yet one more stranger and ask for help, aren't angry at me, they have no overblown sense that the "world owes them", that isn't what it is...not at all. Their exhibits of bravado, anger, and frustration, are a way of trying to hide their shame at not having the ability to support themselves, to get past that feeling of utter and complete helplessness. A cycle of helplessness, it grows, it can happen so quickly. An accident or illness occurs, they get behind on one bill, if they pay that one, another one is short-changed, and so on, and so on, and so on, until becomes an overwhelming mountain of debt and need.

I couldn't help the couple who visited me yesterday, and there are many others I cannot help. But on some occasions, I can help, I do have the answers, I find something, even if not a very big something, that can ease the burden of those who no longer have the capability of fully helping themselves. It just isn't enough.

I pondered many things last night during my drive home, and for many hours afterward...

There is a very, very thin line between the middle-class and the poor. A line so thin, that a simple fall from a ladder can cause that line to disappear.

I have read in many different places, of how, we should all have at least 3 months salary set aside for emergencies. 3 months? I now think it should be 3 years. But, tell many people have that capability? Very few.

There is much that can be said to denigrate our current 'must have it all consumer mentality', of how it has trapped so many of us, into buying more and more, into collecting more and more things to find that mysterious vagarious feeling we call happiness. In effect not creating happiness, but more and more consumer debt. More and more worries.

Many talk a good game, of how this increasing need to own more, to own the latest and greatest of everything has ruined our country, our society. (those standing on line all day to purchase the i-phone today are a good example of that ever constant need to own, to have). There are politicians, sociologists, religious leaders, everyday citizens, who can go on and on about what is wrong with our society, our nation, our world, but that is all it is...rhetoric...nothing is ever done. More and more people falling through the hole of debt, whether through illness, accident, or over-consumption.

And, the thing is...I don't know how to fix any of it...I have no idea. Does anyone? Can anyone fix it? Questions that are constantly asked, and answered, lotsa great theories are spouted...yet we DO nothing.

After witnessing so many who have fallen so low, and no matter how hard they try, they just get beaten down again. I begin to wonder...if I found myself in similar irremediable circumstances...

Would I give back? Would I get angry at myself, or would I direct my anger toward others? Would desperation make me do things that I think I would never do?

I have been poor, the first 9 years of my life, my family was quite poor, the next few years fluctuated between having and not having. I know an extent...but seems different... there is so much much...that people want...stuff they think they need...maybe...poor is different today.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The future, our futures, our tomorrows, the next hour for that matter, are unpredictable, completely uncertain. I forget that sometimes. The strangers I meet almost daily, those people in such desperate need, remind me though, if I remember to listen.

Long ago, the Christmas I was 15, I received an alarm clock as a gift from my brother. The face of the clock had a popular quotation printed across it...

"Today, is the first day, of the rest of your life."

The thing be...the only day...of the rest of my life.

So, I may ask myself...

Did I do good today? Did I express my love and affection to all the people in my life that I needed to, that I would express it to, if I knew this were my last day? Sadly, the answer is no, I didn't. I wish I had.

I then may ask...what could I have done differently?

The thing is...I can ask myself those questions forever...but they are wasted thought...if I do nothing to arrive at the answer I want.


X. Dell said...

The FDR administration set up Social Security in response to the Depression. If too many people were left wthout legitimate resources, the social, political and violent upheaval that might cause could really break the nation. You can't have that many people in a society who feel that they have nothing left to lose.

I sympathize with the couple, especially since his employer sounds rather short-sighted and vindictive. I'm wondering if he could perhaps get a grant to set up his own business, a consultancy of sorts. After all you said he had a lot of knowledge.

Your reaction to their plight kinda gives me reason to pause too. Perhaps most working people don't realize that there's not much that separates them from abject poverty. Thus, people who are poor are often thought of as others, or those who don't try hard enough, or whatever. But it all goes to show, that what separates income levels isn't as great as we like to think.

LePhare said...

I can remember being told by the M.S Soc. welfare officer that came to see us when my wife was first diagnosed.
If you have something, I can get you nothing. If you have nothing, I can get you something. And if you have a lot, look after it because you're going to need it.

Another thought provoking post Sunny.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't do your job, it would break my heart too often, too hard. I don't think I would survive.

As for help, it's true, we don't realize how close we all live to the edge and how easily it could be us asking for help.

As for telling those around me that I love them, everyday, I do, especially my kids. Even my middle girl, even when she's pushing my buttons, I tell her I love her. I'm hoping one day it'll make a difference to her.

George said...

I could never do a gut wrenching job like yours. We all have enough sadness to deal with without having to work in it as well.

A very insightful post, thank you.

Sunny Delight said...,
He hopes to return to school, and there are grants here for that...our university has a wonderful one for continuing ed. students.

There are many I talk to everyday, that do not realize how fine the line really is between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', we are a country filled with complacency and it saddens me. Yet, I wonder, if I did not do the job I do...would I not be also?

That is it, exactly. And, yet, it is amazing the many ways people who have ...use legal loopholes to protect their assets (for their heirs), and then end up using federal and state dollars that could be used for those who truly do need them.

As a nurse, you do a job, that I know I could not do, there is sadness there too.
In my job, there is joy too, there are many that I can find help for...that is the reward.

As I said to deb, there is joy involved, sometimes, I offer aid just by being a listening ear, and offering an objective view point, and using my knowledge of available resources.

I love what I do...just because of those very times when I can find an answer, or as the couple I wrote viewpoint...was at a distance, removed...they thanked me for listening, and pointing them in other directions to explore...

Sometimes when in such dire straits one can no longer 'see' clearly' and it takes someone outside of the situation to clear the fog of malaise they can once again think creatively.