Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How Rich Am I?

I don't feel rich. Not at all.

A few years ago, when real estate was hopping and my sweetie was bringing home the big, fat checks I felt pretty comfortable. We were finally "doing well". We had money to spare. We rented beach houses, always bought organic, didn't think a whole lot about buying stuff, lent money to friends without worrying about getting it back (though we mostly did) and even put a fair amount away in savings.

These days, the paychecks are far slimmer and the expenses seem to multiply as the kids grow and grocery bills skyrocket along with the cost of gas and utilities. Then there's the ongoing effort to keep shoes on The Dark Lord's feet and make sure his ankles are covered. Man-clothes are a lot spendier than boy-clothes.

And it's almost September. We shell out a large sum for the kids' education in various programs. I'm looking at a three week break (good) which means missing a paycheck (bad). And the brakes just went out on my car. I had to reschedule my first brake appointment when my car wouldn't start due to a dead battery.

Thus I found myself up early to spend an hour knitting and watching CNN in the toxic fumes of our local tire shop's waiting room. Why yes, I was just a bit grumpy and not looking forward to shelling out money I didn't have. I'd given warning at Kateri Park that I might not make my Wednesday morning knitting gig with the residents and even though the car was fixed in time, I considered blowing it off. What I really wanted was to creep back home and make myself a proper breakfast and scowl at the newspaper.

But my conscience, such as it is, got the better of me and I made the trek across town. I was warmly received by Bella (not her real name), one of the few residents who's a native English speaker. She'd brought along Cheryl (also a native English speaker and also not her real name) who was also anxious to learn to knit. We chatted for a while before anyone else joined us.

It was immediately clear to me that both of these women have similar issues in terms of processing challenges and medications. I'm not sure what they take, but it makes them very languid with slightly slurred speech. I'm no psychiatrist but I suspect learning difficulties among other issues. Both are on public assistance, unable to work. It was tough going at first but Bella now derives great satisfaction from both the process of knitting and the resulting objects which she happily gifts to loved ones. I was delighted that she wanted to share this with her friend.

Cheryl asked me quite a few questions about my family, my job, my home. She wondered who was paying me to come across town to work with them. When I told her I was a volunteer she asked me, incredulously, "how rich are you?".

Which kind of floored me, honestly. Because of course I am. I forget that when I can't figure out how to pay for my dental work or when I have to decide between organic vs regular (cheap) milk for my kids. But I have have so much to be grateful for and that hit me like a much needed smack in the face today.


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Yep. When I was a divorced mom of two kids, I used to remind them that even though we had to be careful, most of the people in the world would consider us rich. After all we had a house and three squares a day, and even if we bought our clothes at Marshalls and TJ Maxx, we were able to buy clothes.

It makes you think.

Fairion said...

I need to remind myself and my family of this on a regular basis. We have tightened the purse strings a great deal in the last six months to make ends meet but we still have enough to be considered rich by many.