While the eyes of America are diverted by the need for media flavored chewing gum, faux celebrity and egocentric politicians who dance and posture like drunken lemmings on the edge of a fiscal cliff, the lost and the broken take root on the sidewalks of New York like unwanted urban weeds that force themselves through the cracks in the concrete.
When I was much younger, I played a mental game where I would pretend I was God. I could do anything, so what would I do to fix the world, its people and make life the way it ought to be?
It’s easy to say I’d make it so no one ever needs to fear hunger, homelessness, or lack of medical care. Everyone would be warm, fed and safe. There would be no war, plague or famine. Everyone I love who is sick I would make well, including me. Except when I got into the nitty-gritty of how to get it done, even as God, it turns out to be exceedingly complicated. Unless you go with the “abracadabra solution.” That’s the one where you wave a wand and voilà! Everything is fixed, everyone is fed, housed, and the whole world is playing “nice” with all its neighbors.
In a real world, there has to be enough food to go around and farmers to grow it. You need to harvest and distribute food because it doesn’t automatically go from the field to the kitchen table without a good deal of other stuff happening in between. You need doctors and nurses to run hospitals. You have to manufacture stockpiles of medications, clothing and other goods. Unless we plan a fairyland built on a child’s imaginings, the mechanics of a perfected world are staggering.
If I had the power to change just MY little piece of the world — a different question — I would make it so that we would have cures for our ailments and all the money we paid into programs that were supposed to take care of us actually would take care of us. I’d want a life in which we could live without the shadows of fear darkening our days, without the gnawing worry we’ll end up homeless, sick and forgotten. I would make it so I would never again wake up in the grip of terror because I have no idea how I will stretch the money to match the month.
Maybe I should just go with “abracadabra” after all.
While the government diddles around with our lives, someone asked me “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
This is a bad question to ask people our age, especially right now. We are living on fixed incomes that barely allow us to survive. The future is not something we really want to talk about, look at, or think about. We have a pretty good idea what is coming for us and it isn’t pretty. We won’t get better jobs. There are no bonuses, promotions or raises in our future. Our careers have ended and we no longer work. No one is going to leave us their fortune. I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to hit big on the lottery.
So what do you figure is likely to be the scenario in five years? You don’t need to be a visionary or a prophet to figure it out. It’s kind of obvious.
We will be poorer. Hopefully we will have somehow managed to not lose the house which will be in serious need of repair and improvements for which we still won’t have money. Each year, we will have less money to work with, fewer resources. Our fixed income doesn’t stretch to cover the month now and will cover less in five years.
Most of you are younger than we are. You can’t imagine a time in your lives when you have no expectation of life getting better. For us, things are never going to get better. Our fondest hope is as our situation worsens, we survive. That’s not pessimism. It’s reality. We will fight an endless battle to make ends meet. Just like we are already doing but we will be five years older and that much tireder.
Social Security won’t go up nor will any pension money. We’ll be lucky if they don’t take it away; if they do, we are on the street. We won’t get younger or healthier. Property taxes will rise as will the cost of medical care, drugs, food, and everything else. Our income will remain the same or less. If we don’t die, we’ll be lucky to have a roof over our heads and something to eat.
A look into the future fills us with trepidation. We live with constant gnawing dread as our resources shrink and our government continues to marginalize us, as if all the contributions made throughout our working lives count for nothing, as if our lives count for nothing.
I’m not inherently pessimistic, but reality bites and I’ve got a big hole in my ass to prove it. You can run, but eventually, you hit a wall. This is reality for most senior citizens. Grandma and grandpa live in or at the edge of poverty. They live in fear. They know nothing good is coming down the pipeline. Relief is not on the way. The vast majority of us worked hard and now we can barely make ends meet. It’s humiliating and depressing. What the government calls “entitlements” is actually our money. We invested in programs we were assured would provide a dignified retirement. The money we paid into these retirement programs and social security were supposed to prevent exactly what is happening. It was supposed to keep the wolf from the door, make sure that we didn’t end up in poverty. It was supposed to guarantee we would have a decent quality of life and be able to live in dignity.
For those of you who think we are just being negative, your turn will come. It will be a lot worse by the time you are our age. Everyone thinks they are going to dodge this bullet, that this is a scenario that can never happen to them. But it will. Unless you are very good with your money (never too early to start), exceedingly lucky, or already wealthy, this is your future too. There’s no “Get out of old-age free” card on the Monopoly board of life.
Not long ago, we believed something good was bound to happen. This could not be our fate. The economy and the housing market would go back up. We could sell the house and find a place we could live better. But it didn’t happen. With each passing month, as the months roll into years, we know there’s not going to be a last-minute save. Not this time.
The overall economy and real estate market — even in this depressed area — will ultimately recover, but it will be too late for us.
- Pessimists Live Longer Than Optimists (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- Pessimists don’t really live longer (rdashknowledge.wordpress.com)
- Retirement no more: Median net worth at lowest level since 1969 recent study finds. (mybudget360.com)
- Truth And Lies About Poverty (bigcircumstance.com)
I used to have answers. Time has eroded certainties and I’m back to just having questions. I will never answer those questions because (a) I wouldn’t accept the answer, no matter what it is, and (b) I wouldn’t recognize the answer if it hit me on the head. I’m not wasting any more effort trying to solve life’s great mysteries. I remain curious and if someone else dopes it out, send me the results. I’ve got other urgent issues to address.
Stuff that ends with “ic” and “ology” has moved to the bottom of my list. The meaning of life is less important than figuring out how I’m going to pay for the medication that lets me have a life. I have accepted that I’m not going to win the lottery. Someone will win, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be me. We find ourselves in a strange Neverland where we have too much money to get any kind of assistance, but not enough to live comfortably.
We worked and paid taxes until we got too tired to work any more. It was time to stop paying and start collecting. Retirement was supposed to be the end of stress, the beginning of the rewards.
There are rewards. You go to bed and get up on your own schedule. I don’t even know what day of the week it is most of the time. If you don’t have a job, one day is very much like another. Weekends take me by surprise. If you are in a good marriage, you have time to really enjoy each other. You get to know your grandchildren. You read, watch movies, pursue hobbies, pet your dogs.
Our memories are a treasure trove. We worked hard and played hard. We did things that other people dream about. Not everything we wanted to do, but a lot. Somehow, we are going to do some more things yet. We haven’t given up on life. Nor will we until life gives up on us.
It has not turned out to be the end of stress. Not even close.
We are afflicted by the problem that afflicts much of our generation: our pension plans are totally inadequate to the world in which we find ourselves. Insufficient to maintain a quality of life that gives us freedom from stress, we are forever between jagged rocks and a very hard place. After making major cutbacks and by eliminating many things we used to do, we hang on. Barely.
Life is punctuated by bouts of clinical insanity and hysterical laughter. It can be weird. That so many other people are in the same or even worse positions is not especially comforting. Rather like being in an over-loaded lifeboat with all your friends. You row for a while, then you start to giggle, then someone says something and you howl with laughter, then with a sigh, you get back to hauling on that oar. I don’t know how we keep going, but we do. Extremely unlikely rabbits pop out of previously undetected hats and we live to row another day.
Life is a loop that replays variations of our personal Cuban Missile Crisis. The world is going to end. No, it isn’t. Yes it is. No, it isn’t, well, not yet anyway. I have trouble staying asleep. Duh.
We adapted, but life after paychecks is not what we planned. Being poor is like wearing too-tight shoes. They aren’t a lot too small, but they pinch. There’s always a blister on your heel or toe. Walking isn’t much fun.Getting older is kind of like that too, except it’s like wearing a body that doesn’t fit. And you don’t have anything else to wear.
But damn, but we did have fun. I had fun. Garry had fun. We had fun together. We still have fun. We just need to fit our fun into an incredibly tight budget, taking into account our arthritic bodies and diminished energy levels.
The final and biggest irony is that all the things we learned in the course of life … nobody is the least bit interested in any of it. Your kids don’t listen and your grandchildren are too busy texting.
Being alive beats out the alternative, so even while we try to figure out how to pay bills and complain about aches and pains, we aren’t sorry about what we did, but we don’t have a plan for the future. I’m pretty sure the future is going to be a lot like the present.
Few regrets and great memories. We didn’t do everything, but we did a lot. More than most people. We may have made some unfortunate — maybe stupid — choices, but we didn’t wimp out. If life were a movie, we would be on schedule for a previously unknown but fabulously rich relative to pass away leaving us gazillions of dollars and a mansion on a cliff in Ireland.
As for what we’ll do next? Whatever as we can, of course. What other choice is there really?
In the deathless words and music of Edith Piaf, I would like to say this about that:
Non, je ne regrette rien ... or at least, not much.
This is the year when massive number of Americans have declared themselves disconnected from humanity. Announcing they have no obligation to their less fortunate neighbors, this segment of our population is proving they haven’t the slightest idea what Christianity … or for that matter, Judaism or any other faith … is about. They have shed generosity, kindness, conscience, and abjured any obligation to anyone but themselves. They are proud of being morally defective.
Supported by religious organizations of every denomination, with the assistance of local grocery stores, businesses and private citizens who don’t want their neighbors to go hungry, they provide food for people who otherwise might not eat.
Food banks operate quietly in almost every community. These are the places that make it possible to not send the kids to bed hungry. They give food without requiring a lot of paperwork. They help while trying to let those they help maintain their dignity. They do not judge. They are friendly, smiling, and act like what they do is no big deal. Think nothing of it, they say. Being poor is not shameful in their eyes.
There is nothing more terrifying than realizing there is nothing to eat and no money to buy food. Poverty is painful, humiliating, and scary. The big bad wolf is not merely at the door, he is in the house stalking you.
Poverty isn’t limited to the lazy, drifters, drug users, or any particular group or class. It is part of the daily lives of the elderly, a familiar companion to anyone on a fixed income. It haunts the working poor, the disabled, and many who have been hit by “life accidents” from the closing of the plant where they used to work, to fire, flood, or other calamity.
What all these people have in common is they have been assaulted and beaten by events over which they had no control. Government agencies are not user-friendly and frequently so rules-bound it’s impossible to live long enough to get help, even if you easily qualify for assistance.
The people who run food banks, the staff, organizers, local businesses and plain folk who work to make food available to those who need it, are unsung heroes. So today, I offer you a song of praise. I salute you. You have saved many of us when we were vulnerable, desperate and had nowhere to turn.
You are the best of America.
- Food bank: We need more food to feed UK’s hungry (telegraph.co.uk)
- Feeding the hungry in our community (hamptonroads.com)
- Feed the Hungry While You Get in Shape with the Protein Food Drive (prweb.com)
- HoneyBaked and its Customers to Feed the Hungry this Holiday Season (prweb.com)
- Community helps feed city’s hungry (nanaimobulletin.com)
- Volunteers Needed To Harvest Michigan Fields For The Hungry (detroit.cbslocal.com)
- Filling the Bus to Feed the Hungry (wbng.com)
- 220 Marketing’s Project Feed the Hungry 2011 (prweb.com)
- Help Seattle Nanny Feed the Hungry (redtri.com)