Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Born On Third Base

No time to read? Now you can listen!



Last week one of my neighbors texted me to ask if I had any knowledge of bookkeeping. I (hesitantly) texted her back that I'm a little rusty, but yes - I actually have a degree in accounting. I use the word "hesitantly" because it seems that no matter where I go, accounting follows me. I haven't worked full-time in accounting in about 10 years, and in that time of hiatus I've arrived at the conclusion that I decidedly do NOT want to be an accountant when I grow up. Apparently the universe has different ideas.

It turns out that the reason she wanted to know is that she works for a non-profit organization in town that provides food and shelter for families in emergency situations. The woman that had been handling the books needed to resign due to some personal health problems and they were looking for someone to take her place. I've really been wanting to find a volunteer opportunity like this for years and this one just happened to find me, so I jumped at the chance to do it. I've heard that God puts you in certain places at certain times for certain reasons. Well…THAT. And for once, I'm actually glad that this accounting degree thing JUST WON'T QUIT.

SIDEBAR: This is the internet after all, so as ridiculous as it is, I feel it's necessary to include a notation that I'm actually extremely grateful that I have a degree. It took a lot of hard work and even more student loans to get it, so before anyone jumps down my throat about how fortunate I am and that I shouldn't complain: I KNOW THIS. Chill and keep reading.

Friday night the same neighbor texted me and asked if I was available to ride with her to a local hotel to help out a family in need. The family (Mom, Dad, and 3 kids) are currently living there and had been locked out of their room because they were unable to pay. They had an EBT card and a $97 hold had been put on it when they put $11 worth of gas in their car earlier that day. With the hold, they didn't have enough remaining on the card to pay for the hotel and they were going to be on the street until they got paid on Monday.

The organization gets as much information about families as they can before they are granted help, simply because they run entirely off donations and want to make sure they are begin good stewards with donor's contributions.  So after we spoke with the front desk and paid for them to stay through the weekend, we talked a little with the mother.

Before they found themselves in the situation they are currently in, they had been living with family. One of the family members in the home was very ill, and the mother became her caregiver. Unfortunately, the family member passed away, the mother's help was no longer needed, and they were no longer welcome to live in the house.

"I knew once we moved into a hotel, we would never get out. I didn't want to move in here, but we didn't have anywhere else to go."

My friend asked if she had been able to find employment. (She had to quit her job to take care of the ill family member.)

"I've looked. I can't afford child care and now we don't have any family to help out. I can't find a job where I can work while they are at school because I don't have a diploma. So no one will hire me."

"Have you looked into getting a GED?"

"I went to take the test. I didn't know anything. I couldn't answer any of the questions. I quit school when I was 14."

Her eyes watered and she looked at the ceiling as she said that last part. I don't know that I've ever seen a human being wear shame like I saw when she told us that.

We gave her a hug and a number to call about taking classes that would prepare her for taking the test and asked that she let us know how things are going. Honestly, I wanted to take the whole lot of them home with me, but there is a certain degree of professionalism and (for lack of a better word) distance required when you're dealing with these situations on behalf of an actual organization, and not out of your own pocketbook.

I got home and thought about what I'd just witnessed. We've worked hard to get where we are, there's no arguing that. My husband literally started on the lowest rung in his company and worked his way up. But there is also no arguing that there IS such a thing as being born on third base. And we were. Don't confuse this to mean that we were handed our successes - we weren't, and there was a lot of hard work involved with getting us where we are - but there are some circumstances that had nothing to do with anything we did personally that put us a little ahead of the game.

It's not as if I've never realized this before, but I don't think it's ever been quite so glaringly in my face. I don't have a memory of sitting face to face with someone who can't dig their way out of the hole they've dug for themselves and have subsequently, and continuously, been shit on by life.

My husband and I were raised in homes that valued education. Quitting school at any point, let alone at the age of 14 was NEVER an option. Had I attempted such a thing, I believe wholeheartedly that my parents would have personally escorted me to school, and to every class, probably even holding my hand, until I had a diploma with my name on it. And nothing I have done "earned" me a family that cared that much. That's just the card I drew.

It is hard to imagine that there are people out there who have no interest in whether or not their children succeed, because for most of us that is our number one priority. It's easy to say, "Well, quitting school was her decision. What does she expect?" To that, I agree. It was an especially terrible decision, and one for which she continues to pay. But I would also say, "Have you met a 14 year-old?" Making good decisions aren't exactly their strong suit. Furthermore, I don't know many people who can say they HAVEN'T made a bad decision(s) in their lifetime that could have had worse consequences than they did. As I think about this, I'm having flashbacks to a few college weekends. Also age 17. Moving on.

When the subject of welfare or "government assistance" is discussed, I don't think I've ever NOT heard someone say, "I've worked hard and earned EVERYTHING I've got. Why shouldn't they?"

I don't doubt that people who say this have worked hard. I believe that is likely true. But where did you start out? Did you grow up with a family who instilled a strong work ethic? Did you have a person, or people in your life who made you believe you were valuable? That you could make something of yourself?

Of course, there are people who grow up without all of those things and still manage to beat the odds. If this describes you, I salute you. You rock. I personally know a few people who fall into this category and I am amazed at their perseverance. But, truth be told, had I been raised made to feel less-than or worthless or, worst of all, unloved - I can't say with any certainty that I would have come out on the other side anywhere close to where I am. In fact, I feel like there's a good chance that life would have gotten the best of me. If I never once heard that I could be someone, where would I be?

Would I be struggling to put $11 worth of gas in my car?
Would I be wondering how I was going to feed my children tomorrow?
Would I have a safe place for my family to sleep tonight?

This isn't a debate on whether or not there are people out there who manipulate the system. Of course there are. There are bad eggs in every group - regardless of their socioeconomic standing. I'm going to oversimplify this with a personal example.

When I was in college, I worked at a vet clinic. There was a staff rotation for "weekend duty", meaning coming in to feed and medicate any animals that were staying overnight. There was a client who had a Rottweiler. He was the kind of guy who you could tell owned a Rottweiler because it was a Rottweiler, which by default made him a badass. Sorry for the stereotype, but you know exactly the type of person I'm describing. And I swear to the heavens that he checked to see exactly which weekends I would be working as to make sure he boarded his dog on my watch. That dog was the bane of my existence. He was huge, he didn't listen worth a shit, and he hated - HATED - being in a kennel. And it was my job to put him in one. Yayyyyy.

One weekend, he was being particularly obstinate and no matter what I tried, I could NOT coerce him back into his kennel. I tried everything. When I finally decided that he wasn't going to go in voluntarily, I went over to grab his collar so I could drag him in. He bared his teeth and growled at me. I'm no idiot, and I was certainly not interested in being mauled by a large dog that day. I called the veterinarian and told him that if he hoped to return to his office on Monday and find it NOT destroyed, that he needed to come help me kennel this dog. Otherwise, good luck and I'll go ahead and leave my key under the mat. I have never liked Rottweilers because of that experience.

A couple of weekends ago, I was out on a trail when I passed a woman who was walking her dog. A Rottweiler. As I passed, the dog got close enough to me and nudged my hand with his head. She pulled him back and reprimanded him. I scooted over to let them pass, but I could tell that the dog meant no harm so I stopped and let him sniff me. He rubbed his head on my hand again, so I bent over and scratched behind his ears and patted his head. He didn't want to maul me. He just wanted a little love.

Two dogs. Same breed. Different home life. Very different outcomes.

Like I said, I am oversimplifying here. But then again, am I?

Later that night we received a text from the woman we helped at the hotel (and before you get all up on her for having a phone - it is the most basic phone you can have with no data plan, and she texts using one of those free texting apps so it comes through in about 7 different out of order text bubbles). It said, "Thank you for saving us. We have not been in this situation before. I have always had a home. When I get back on my feet I want to help other people who need it because I know how it feels. I know how it feels to have no one and to be scared because you don't know what is going to happen. I just want to give back."

There is so much more to this story and about this woman that I could share, but my point is this. Before you make the decision to pigeonhole everyone who could use some help, or who is down on their luck, or who uses government assistance, please stop and think about this woman. And when you look at your life, where you've ended up, and still make the decision to go forth in life with the mentality of "What's mine is mine!", stop and ask yourself "Where would I be if….".

It just might change your perspective.

6 comments:

  1. Love how you put this! I see it daily!!

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  2. After five years of working with the homeless population, I couldn't agree more. You, my friend, offer in this post a very realistic and compassionate picture of those who live on the fringes of society. Not only are some of us "born on third base," socioeconomically; some of us have a very legitimate biological advantage that allows us to be more resilient to life's challenges. Everybody has a story, and every story matters. I'm so glad you took to time to share this one.

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  3. I had this hit home several years ago. My husband and I had racked up some debt, we redid the budget,started a plan to pay it off etc. My husband is self-employed, and had a bad year. We got a paycheck on January 1, and that was it until more work came in. We had to apply for unemployment, used up all our savings, and still had to borrow money from his parents to pay the bills. While we didn't hit rock bottom, and we are extremely grateful we have family who could help us out, it was an eye opener. Some people don't have the means or family to get themselves out, and it made us realize how quickly things can change. I no longer judge people, you never know their background. While we aren't rich by any means, I try and help when I can.

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  4. The only thing i would ask of you is look deeper. you said (implied) that this womans family did not care if she succeeded. I could not disagree more. I'm quite sure they did but were probably in a similar situation and had to concentrate on keeping her housed, clothed and fed. Sadly this womans children may continue this cycle. It often takes generations to break out of this cycle of poverty.

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  5. The only thing i would ask of you is look deeper. you said (implied) that this womans family did not care if she succeeded. I could not disagree more. I'm quite sure they did but were probably in a similar situation and had to concentrate on keeping her housed, clothed and fed. Sadly this womans children may continue this cycle. It often takes generations to break out of this cycle of poverty.

    ReplyDelete

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