But what is hard to grasp is that each of these one in ten has a story. In fact, they have many, many stories that illustrate precisely how much of a toll being without income can take on a person.
Below is an excerpt from a blog post from a woman who has fruitlessly been looking for work. This is just one story of one afternoon in her shoes:
I opened the menu to see the only thing offered on Sundays was an $18.95 prix fixe, except for a few sides.
I about hyperventilated. I can’t afford $18.95. My best option is $2.50 plain bagel (I wasn’t going to splurge the extra $1.50 for cream cheese) but the truth is, I’m starving, because I didn’t eat my tupperware food, or get any sleep last night because I was (as a volunteer) putting on a concert. And I’m going to look so awkward eating a plain bagel while everyone else eats the multi-course prix fixe.
The guy next to me, a long time church friend, notices my apprehension and immediately offers to pay for my meal.
I immediately start crying.
I’m so embarrassed.
So embarrassed that I don’t have $18.95, that I’m in this place where I don’t have any savings to live off while I find a new job, where my only income are the unemployment checks that have barely started to trickle in. Embarrassed that no one wants me, that I have applied to dozens of jobs over the last year and not had a single interview. Embarrassed that going to brunch with friends is so stressful. Embarrassed that if I am going to eat lunch here, I have to accept his gift. And embarrassed that I’m so f-cking grateful that I’m crying in this restaurant because my friend is buying my lunch.
I didn’t know how much I’d come to associate value, worth, moral goodness with financial stability and success. I am repulsed by that notion, but the truth is, now that I have no money, I’m ashamed of myself. I feel like a failure, like I’ve blown something, done something fundamentally wrong, and I don’t want anyone to know how hard it is, because I don’t want anyone to see me the way I sometimes see myself. I have new empathy for people for whom this struggle is not new and temporary. I repent of my past sub-conscious judgments.
I dab at my eyes so the mascara doesn’t run and I try to make a joke but the truth is, I am grateful, I am so grateful that he perceived my apprehension and offered to treat me so casually, that he didn’t make a thing of it, that he meant it. And I’m grateful that I get to eat eggs benedict and a beer and a coffee and a salad, and not a plain bagel, because this friend stepped in and didn’t make me feel like a failure, but just like a friend he could help out this time.
If you’re reading this, as you sometimes do, thank you. You gave me a lot more than a meal.
Not only does this story show the devestation of unemployment, but it is also a wonderful lesson in how small, almost imperceptible acts of kindness can save someone from not only hunger, but shame and embarrassment and so much more. This story reminds us to be aware of those around us, to find opportunities to save someone from an awful experience. This story is one of millions.
[Photo by Jon Mountjoy]