Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Only Way Out Is Through

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Total Black: $826.61
Total Red: $230,080.21

A friend of mine reached out to me today to express his sympathy about the developments I mentioned in One Step Back, Two Steps Forward.  His email also conveyed his own frustration at his inability to help.  As I walked home from the temp job, I thought about his email and also about the frustrations expressed by the Woman Who Sits Next To Me regarding her own struggles with debt.  I thought I’d try to weave both together in this entry since they share a common element, namely that the only way out of something is just to get through it.  But there’s many ways to get through something and many ways to help others as they do.

One obvious way people can help each other is by giving money.  That’s clear enough, but Americans don’t really like to do that.  In Cashing In My Karma, I talked a bit about how unique Americans are that we work for free—quite unlike many other countries.  Yet we don’t like to give away our money.  Why is that?  I observed in Res Ipsa Loquitur that if everyone took the money they spend on just one cup of whatever Starbucks coffee they buy on a given day, we’d have approximately $18 million dollars to use: perhaps to improve schools or clean up our subway systems, to repair poorer people’s homes and restore some dignity to their lives, or even to tear down abandoned buildings and return the lots to nature until later when some use for the land arises.  Endless possibilities.  So the money is out there, but culturally, as a people, we’re just hung up about giving it away.  Or maybe, given the friend of my mother’s who I wrote about in Small Town Boy in the Big City, perhaps it’s just city-dwellers who jealously guard their money so.  Not sure.  But it’s only for set occasions that Americans feel comfortable giving out money, and some of those are pretty odd.  We give money for birthdays, holidays, births, deaths, weddings, anniversaries, and retirements, and for religious events like christenings, first holy communion, bar and bat mitzvahs, and so on.  Pretty much we give money to mark significant life events.  Most of those occasions make sense except birthdays and holidays.  Those come every year whereas the others do not, and sometimes, in the case of births and deaths in particular, bring significant cost.  So it doesn’t make sense that we freely toss $20 in a card for someone’s birthday, yet wring our hands in despair when they’re going through a financial difficulty.  Why is that?  Why can we spend $250 on Christmas gifts but can’t bring ourselves to give each other $10 on a random Tuesday just because?

I don’t write this as a plea for your cash.  I’m getting there on my own with the temp job.  This ship is beginning to right itself.  But I ask because of the implications for our society at large.  This is the largest and most significant economic downturn that our nation has seen in generations.  Unemployment numbers near records set in the early 1980s and poised to surpass them.  Too many viable comparisons can be drawn with the 1930s.  It’s rough going out there.  Yet any Great Recession stories we see are mostly about people getting by on their own: cutting costs, getting creative in ways to save money or earn a bit more.  There aren’t many stories of people helping each other, not the economically downtrodden or the homeless for example, but helping our neighbors through these tough times.  As I wrote about in Never Been Further Apart, where does this leave us when a really tough moment comes?  How much would you give someone you know to prevent their eviction?  Or foreclosure?  How much is enough?  Ten dollars?  Fifty?  One hundred and fifty?  Could you give it freely without holding it over them?  I received an email today from a colleague who works for a non-profit organization.  She explained that her organization is, like many other organizations, experiencing financial difficulties and asked if we could donate something, even ten dollars.  The email insulted me because I’m sure she knew that I was laid-off and had been out of work for over a year.  After waivering for a few moments, I deleted the email.  Today on the walk home I thought about that action and questioned why I did that.  Would $10 really bankrupt me?  No.  I must have spent that much already today on lunch, dinner, and snacks at work.  The feeling I got upon reading the email were as if I caught someone trying to pick my pocket.  How long can we last as a society if respectable people and organizations meet with that response?  Didn’t the Dean / Obama / Move-On approach to fundraising show us how much difference we can make if everyone gave something?

The Woman Who Sits Next To Me often shares her frustrations that she’s single, getting older, in debt, and still doing contract attorney work.  She’s said in passing that she needs to get married so her husband can help her with her debt.  She doesn’t mean it as shallowly as it sounds.  At least, I don’t think she does because she also expressed hope at winning the lottery.  A few of us all bought Mega Millions lottery tickets for a large jackpot a few days back.  None of us won.  Both thoughts share a common thread that something or someone can come along to solve her financial problems for her.  Perhaps a rich and handsome Prince Charming to cut through the tangled thorns of debt and wake her from her financial slumber.  Or someone to whom she can toss down her golden hair and he can climb up and rescue her from her tower of debt.  Forgive the flippant treatment of her worries, but, in a sense, it speaks to a common hope of many women, and men, in the United States: the quick fix.  But there really isn’t ever a quick fix.  And I wonder what Lottery Dreams and Fairy Tales have done to destroy the sense of sticktoitiveness that Americans have been known for.  One thing that is for sure is that the only way to get through a difficult or trying situation is just to bear with it until the end.  Duration will vary for each of us.  Intensity most certainly will.  The affect it has on us will differ.  But each of us must see our challenges and frustrations through to the end, whether that end comes quick with an instant fix from lottery winnings or a loan, or is a long time coming, or even comes artificially with a life cut short.

Another approach to all this is that we need not struggle alone.  The Woman Who Sits Next To Me definitely keyed into that.  She wants a quick fix and  also someone to reach a hand out to her.  Of course, she doesn’t just wish to find a soul mate solely to saddle him with her debt.  But she is expressing the desire for help and I suspect she’d take a husband and indebtedness over anonymous sex and debt freedom.  It’s, of course, not only through money that we can help each other.  My friend whom I mentioned above helps me just by commenting on my blog and letting me know he’s out there, reading what I write, and resonating with some of it.  It helps to keep me writing every day, especially when I return home after a very long day and all I want to do is sleep.  But I don’t.  I answer the call of the muses.  And like many of life’s journeys, sometimes I get finished with my blog entry just by seeing it through to the end.

One Response

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  1. enjoyed this entry… keep on truckin’!


    October 21, 2009 at 09:22

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