Sunday, August 10

Why I suddenly feel rich

On Saturday, I saw an article about how a local women's shelter may have to close. It has grants coming in the fall -- but it has no funds until then. Apparently, the not-a-recession has been slowing donations down significantly, and for a longer time than the investors/homeowners have been splashed all over the papers. To compensate, the shelter used what savings it had. Now, the coffers are empty.

The clients are women escaping unstable, unhealthy or downright violent homelives. And they'll be turned out at the end of the month, if not sooner. Several of the women don't speak enough English to navigate the bureaucracy of the housing program. (And, before you scoff about foreigners learning English when in "our" country, bear in mind that I had trouble figuring out a lot of the forms and reading.)

So I read this and thought to myself, "You know, I have $45 in my checking account and it needs to last until the end of the month. But we have Tim's checks if need be. I could afford $25. These women are about to have nothing."

I discussed the move with Tim, of course, and he said if I felt that strongly, to go right ahead. I enclosed a note and said, of course, I wished it could be more and reminding the women that, if they were strong enough to get out of that first homelife, they're strong enough to weather even this sort of event.

And, in the long run, $25 really won't make a huge difference. Unless of course a lot of women like me send in checks.

But even if it doesn't, just realizing that I could spare $25 for someone far needier... Well that just made me feel rich beyond measure.

It made me realize all the things I have when I have the audacity to complain about being poor. I have a check that covers our rent, and Tim gets unemployment for several more months, if it comes to that.

In truth, I am rich beyond measure. Yes, we're in debt but we're digging our way out (down to under $1500 on Tim's student loans) and we have good, working minds (if not always good, working bodies).

We will always be able to, at the very least, make do.

Then I started thinking how close I came to homelessness. By the time I was ready to swallow my pride and apply for disability, I was well past the point of being able to work even part-time. But my mom had savings, which she went through all of trying to keep me healthy -- physically and emotionally. (I had no insurance, and I had incredibly severe depression and feelings of worthlessness while not working.)

For the length of my disability claim (18 months) the state of Washington paid me $300 and gave me $80ish in food stamps. The average room rent around here is $400-500.

In short, I was lucky to have someone who was able (and willing) to support me while things got straightened out. If not for her, I have no idea what would have happened.

Oh, and before you start gasping about how long my disability claim took: My lawyer warned me that just getting an appeals hearing (the third and final step we took) took an average of 18 months. Instead, I was lucky to have the entire process take a year and a half.

And while I use the word "luck" to dubious effect -- a really lucky person wouldn't have had a life-threatening neurological disease in the first place -- I do consider myself lucky. Lucky in love, in family and in friends.

Right now, I'm not thinking about all the necklaces that I don't have, or the new fashions that beckon from department stores. I'm thinking about how lucky I am to have a secure place to live and a debt-free future to look forward to -- even if I don't know when that will be right now.

So, while many of you probably don't care much about a Seattle shelter, I doubt this is the only shelter in trouble. Look around your community; then take a hard look at your checking account's balance. Could you spare $25? Maybe just $10? Or just whatever you have in that spare change jar. And if you really don't think you can give any money, go to a shelter and offer two volunteer hours a week.

I can promise you this: Whether you give time or money, you receive perspective -- and that, my friends, is priceless.

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Blogger Claire said...

Thanks for this. I've really been thinking about how, even though we are pinching pennies to pay off debt, etc, we are amazingly well-off in the grand scheme of things. My husband will be getting a pretty reasonable-sized raise in the fall, and I'm to earmark some of it to be donated every month.

I'm not religious but I do subscribe to the idea of "to whom much is given much is required".

August 13, 2008 at 4:22 PM

Blogger Abby said...


As a non-religious person myself, I totally agree with your sentiment. I really admire your tithing some of that raise to charities, nonetheless. I wish more people were as giving.

August 13, 2008 at 5:04 PM


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