Since posting Compassion for Those In Need, I have been having a conversation with two different people about being poor, and my experiences. One was easy enough, he was a troll – probably a kid staying up far too late, and getting his jollies off trolling assorted people on the Internet.
Trolls are easy to deal with. They are people with little to no power in the real world, whose only way to feel superior to someone is to make them feel bad about themselves. They are the schoolyard bully gone digital. I deal with them in the exact same way I dealt with schoolyard bullies in my childhood, because I’m no one’s punching bag. To be able to abuse me, you have to be a hell of a lot better psychopath than these sad sacks are capable of being.
The other one? Someone who sits in their ivory tower and feels they are able to judge the poor, because they are compassionate and want to help.
A hundred years ago, my sister would have been a perfect poster-child for the so-called “worthy poor.” She was a professional, made a reasonably decent living, with enough extra to not only take care of our aging parents, but to take on the guardianship of a niece and nephew who had been abused and neglected. A bit over a decade ago, she took that extra money and the expansion of her household (both the children and our parents moved in with her), and purchase a large, historic home. This way, the children could each have their own private space, and there was a way for our parents to have their own space as well.
But then, she got sick with an autoimmune disorder, and also broke her leg in three places. She moved our parents to a congregate facility, to ensure they receive the best care at the level that they need it. And, she did what was best for each of the children in the home.
She was, in the parlance of the typical Victorian, a genteel person in need. She is the right color, the right religion, the right “kind” of person that your average compassionate Victorian would have broken speed limits to help.
Then, there’s me. I wasn’t a professional, not until I went back to school. I was a secretary. I was, in many ways, the typical kind of person that a Victorian would have sniffed at, and stated that I was “no better than she should be.” Online research of this phrase says that it is supposedly descriptive of a woman of loose morals. However, contextual reading of works of the time actually defines it much simpler than that. It is descriptive of anyone – man or woman – who attempts to be of a better station or class, but who is by nature and by nurture a ‘lesser being.’
I dropped out of college. I married a man who I knew was likely to treat me badly, and who has to be forced to save any money. I lived in poverty with him, and I defended him against “his betters.” I don’t belong to the right religion, and even if I am the “right” color – my actual life has proven that I am “a blight on my family name” and I should “retire peacefully into obscurity.”
Nor do either of us match the current demographics of those who are considered the modern equivalent of the “worthy poor.” We’re both white, and while I have no children, my sister only has one child left in the home – and he will be going on to college in just a few years. We live in a large home (bought by my sister as stated above – with at least 50% equity in the home, but struggling on the edge of not being able to make the mortgage payment each month), not in a homeless shelter.
Yet, we’re struggling. My sister went from making slightly over twice the median income of the country, to making less than $16K a year. I went from bringing in approximately $15K a year (because few companies wish to hire someone over 40, overweight, and with 15 years of experience in the web design industry – but with a diploma only 7 years old. And I’m not the best of sales people to get my name out there as a freelancer….I was lucky to bring in my last client, for whom I became their main freelancer – but, he paid starvation wages because he targets recent graduates who may or may not know what their skills are worth – my desperation to bring in money is what made me accept his offer), to bringing in absolutely nothing.
The compassionate liberal asks me why I deserve to be helped more than the next person. But, that’s not the issue. I don’t “deserve” to be helped more than the next person, I “deserve” to be helped just as much as the next person. Help and support is not necessarily a finite resource, it just seems that way because the programs meant to help poor Americans keep being bled dry by other interests and by politicians who feed into their constituents biases.
And we’ve asked for help, repeatedly. My sister and I sat down and laid out what the minimum amount to help us get back on track to a better life would be. And we set up that GoFundMe account. We’ve had two donations (which, let me say, we are VERY thankful for) in four months.
The last four months have also been a huge trial for me. I thought I was getting better. As the date of my divorce hearing came closer this spring, I had more spring in my step and seemed to be making great strides in my mental, emotional and physical health. But, it was only temporary – focused solely on the fact that after most of a year, I was finally going to never have to interact with my ex ever again.
Since then, my mental and physical health has gone downhill. And my sister has struggled as well. People see the fact that I write this blog, and they think: “Well, if she can write like this, she should be able to work.”
Let me explain something to you. One of these posts takes maybe at the most a half hour to 45 minutes to write. I write in what is considered a “stream of consciousness” mode. What gets typed out in the post is exactly what I am thinking about in regards to a particular subject at the time of writing the post. It’s not necessarily logical, nor necessarily set up to be particularly persuasive. It is, for lack of a better description, a way for me to get thoughts out of my head and onto paper so that I can move on and not obsess over any particular subject.
How many jobs are limited to less than 1 hour of work each day?
Most days, it is a struggle just to give myself self-care. I’m sleeping 12-16 hours a day, and the times I’m awake are rarely at times when other people are awake. The few times I’ve attempted to work on website code, or even work on learning new aspects of my chosen profession (a necessity in an industry that changes as quickly as mine does), I find I have to go over and over things to do the slightest job – meaning that something that would have taken me less than a day a few years ago suddenly takes me almost a week to complete.
So, I’m making moves to see just exactly what other damage may be involved. I’m looking into whether the damage is permanent or just long-term temporary. I can’t work retail, because the arthritis in my back and feet won’t let me stand for more than 5 minutes at a time. I can’t be a driver for 8 or more hours a day because of the back as well. I don’t necessarily want to find myself put out to pasture as “disabled,” but if I can’t work, I have little other choice.
And my sister is fairly similar, except she’s further along in her recovery. She’s become able to work half-days without any further damage, but as both of us have been known to do repeatedly in our lives, she over-works trying to make sure she brings in as much money as possible, thereby needing a longer recovery time. And I do what I can, when I can to help around the house – so that she has one less worry on her mind and one less energy-sucker in her life.
So, no, I’m not trying to say that I am worse off than the woman in that article. In fact, I know other people in my life who are worse off than I am. What I am saying is that the “well intentioned” seem to limit their support to only a certain “type” because of whatever bias they might have. There are THOUSANDS if not MILLIONS of people out there who need help. Defining someone as “worthy” or “not worthy” does not help the hunger, the poverty, the desperation – it just makes it worse and harder to do anything better.
No one “deserves” to be poor. Everyone deserves the chance to make a better life for themselves, and sometimes some of us need a helping hand in order to do that.
Do I want to be rich? Yes, I’m not going to lie. But, I want to be rich only to be able to turn around and use that money to help others in situations similar to my own. I want to be able to give those people that initial boost that helps them make their lives better.