Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Of Loss and Luck

Yes, I know this blog post is supposed to be about the topic card I found last week, "who do you sorely miss." I'm not veering far. This is about loss and luck.

I got into a bit of a Facebook-comments battle with someone who posted a story about the folks who took advantage of a technical error with their EBT cards that left them with no spending limit and went on a spree. While, yes, that was despicable behavior, the comments left about this article were cruel and disparaging to anyone using public assistance or even being in the position of needing it, with some especially vicious yet typical mean-girl comments from the poster's wife (they fell into the eloquent 'oh no she didn't, don't make me come after you, I'm gonna beat you up behind the silk mill after school, which really means I'll just launch myself at you, scream and pull your hair' typical invective of the less-intelligent variety of mean girls that populated my hometown area and for all I know, still do.)

I was, quite literally, stunned at the viciousness that poured out through their comments for anyone who was not as well off as they are.

Maybe I'm naive, but I didn't realize people hated people who are poorer than them. Loathing those who have more than you, that I understand, but why all the hate for someone who'd fallen on hard times and needed a hand?

I got to wondering if this was just the way we think as Americans. We've always idolized rich people- we emulate them, we eagerly read every tiny detail about their lives, we're supposed to aspire to become them. But did we resent poor people as much during the Great Depression as we do now?

I posted a question on Facebook asking this and got some thoughtful responses. The most succinct was from a friend who had seen Garrison Keillor speak recently and mentioned that he said no one resented or mocked poor people back then because everyone was poor. Considering the hard financial times we're going through, I wonder why we don't share that same attitude. Very few of us can claim we're completely financially secure; I don't know anyone who doesn't have some worries about money, who doesn't worry about the roof caving in over their heads, both figuratively and literally. Our incomes have declined while the cost of goods and services have increased. We're really not any better off than we were before the financial crisis hit.

And why don't these people turn their anger to those who did this to us in the first place? Why is their disdain saved for the single mom with two toddlers who husband ran out on her instead of the Wall Street maverick who made record profits off other people's misfortune? I suspect that that attitude is driven by fear, a subterranean ice-cold dread you hide deep down in your consciousness and fight very hard to keep from thinking about, a fear that that down-on-their-luck person could be you.

Because it could. Honestly, it's not so much about doing everything right or following the rules; it's all about luck. Some people who do bad things have good luck; some good folks who try their hardest every day get crapped on by bad luck. Luck is a dirty, fickle little troll who haphazardly and arbitrarily decides to either kiss you or spit on you. You have no control over luck; maybe that's what's so scary.

It made me think of a friend of mine. We knew each other in high school- not well,  we shared the comradery of the mat-sitters- the unathletic amongst us who sought sanctuary in the furthest reaches of the gym during PE to avoid being called on to participate. I got to know her better through Facebook as adults. She was funny, sharp, witty, kind, and above all, honest. She was the first to call someone out for perpetuating a bullshit stereotype. I wished I could hear her voice on the discussions I was reading.

My friend was a good person who knew bad luck; she knew struggle. I read her posts as she learned of her mother's illness, hundreds of miles away. She shared with us her desperation to visit her mother one last time so she could meet her little girl, so her daughter would get to meet her grandmother just one time. Somehow, she made it happen. I felt like I was on the journey with her- watching her little girl's wonder at her first plane trip, the weird hotel where they were staying, her joy at seeing her daughter and her mother together.

Her mother passed away not long after the trip. It was her spot of good luck that she'd been able to see it before that happened. I admired her so much as she dealt with her grief and took the steps she needed to move on with her life. I shared in her joy at buying her first ever new couches. (My own new couches, my first ever pieces of furniture that weren't handed down from someone else, were still a source of wonder to me, too.) Her family adopted a kitten. Things seemed good again.

Then her husband fell ill. Seriously ill. My friend ranted and raved, she was furious at fate- that fickle troll's ugly cousin- for dealing her this hand so soon after facing tragedy. She threw herself into caring for him and fighting his illness with him. Things were serious, but he was responding to treatments and there was hope ahead.

And then one day, as I checked her page, I saw a post that was not written by her, but her husband. My friend had suddenly collapsed while walking from her car to her apartment with her daughter and died. They thought it might have been a blood clot from recent surgery. She'd been complaining about sharp leg pain and had had a blood clot previously.

I didn't know what to do with this information. We were still young enough for the death of a classmate to be unusual and strange. It was just so sudden. It just seemed so unfair. She had brand new couches, dammit! She had plans for the future! I think she had tickets for a cruise. She had a brand-new kitten. She had a little girl to raise.

I thought of my friend and her family a lot. They were good people. They didn't deserve what happened to them. They didn't ask for that. It was just bad luck.

And then yesterday I happened on to my friend's Facebook page where her husband had occasionally posted updates on how their little girl was doing. Another friend, one I don't know, had posted a notice.

Just a little over a month after his wife- my friend- had died, her husband succumbed to his illness and passed away. I really was in shock this time. All I could think of was, "What horrible luck." And to think of their daughter, just four years old, having to deal with all this tragedy. Only people in olden times, in your grandparents' time, lost their entire family when they were so small. It seems like such an old-fashioned thing to have happen to you. Even the word they use to describe someone who has lost their parents is so antiquated, so Dickensian- "orphan."

My friend's little girl is being cared for by family members. I wish her so much peace, love, and good counseling or therapy. And I most fervently wish that her family's hard luck has been used up, and she has nothing but the good kind from here on out.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Of E.R.s and I.D. cards

Oy vey, I have not posted in a very long time.
It has been a very eventful summer, to say the least.
Some highlights:
  • I've spent time in four different hospital emergency rooms since May. Not as a patient. Four different hospitals. In two states. I am getting gooood at this shit. I don't want to be. (Both family members who needed emergency medical care are now much, much better. I don't want to sound like I'm whining; I'm very glad I was able to help out. It's scary. It's hard not to count your blessings, sitting in an
    They hide the washcloths in those cupboards up there.
    emergency room. We were lucky in our cases; everything was going to be okay, and with some work, even better than before. A lot of other people waiting with loved ones weren't getting good news.)
  • I swam across a lake. I participated in Women Swimmin', a fundraiser for Hospicare of Tompkins County for the first time. It was tremendous. Beyond being such a great thing to be a part of (and having an amazing romp of girls to train & swim with), it was my bright spot throughout three really difficult months at
    My beautiful Misfit Otters
    work. Every time I got a notification that someone else had donated to my swim, it made my day, even when I'd just spent two hours on the phone with someone explaining to me in great detail exactly why it was important for him that the toilets in our new development have elongated bowls, not round. (You don't want to know. Trust me.)
  • My dear friend Ledbetter moved to Ithaca. LB got a job at Ithaca College, our alma mater, and moved to Ithaca. Now she works less than a half-mile away from me and is available for adventures! So far, we've done Feast Fridays, went out for cocktails, spent loads of time at Wegmans, and attended meditation class. We've watched documentaries on the Dust Bowl, a homeless camp in Nashville and a Filipino guy who is now the new lead singer for Journey. I am so proud of her for
    I don't wanna hear it, Ledbetter,
    I love this picture of us.
    being so brave- moving to a new state, starting a new job, facing off with spiders.
Anyway, one of the things I HAVEN'T done is keep up this blog. I stumbled after I ran out of letters of the alphabet and even though I initially thought numbers were a pretty easy (and infinite) source of blog post inspiration, it didn't do anything for me. Then I had to do resident ID card photos yesterday.

Twice a year, we take residents' photos for ID cards. They're completely optional- folks are required to wear nametags here the first seven days of every month to help everyone get to know each other, but they don't need anything more than the little pin-on card with their name that they get when they move in. But some people requested a nametag with a photo, like the staff have to wear, so we offer up photo day twice a year.

© Tom Hussey. Go here:
to see the rest of this series called Reflections from an
award-winning ad for an Alzheimer's medication.
I have a piece of black fabric I put up as a backdrop, snap their mugshots, and then laminate them up a nametag. It's actually kind of fun. I get to meet the new people who've just moved here and joke around with them to get them to smile. But it's a little sad, too. Most older people really don't like getting their photo taken. For one thing, this generation is not the "selfie generation" we have today. But the photos also show how time has changed them. We all have an image in our minds of what we think we look like; it's often an image from a younger time in our lives. It's a bit of a shock sometimes when I show them the screen of my camera and they see an old person looking back. I hear that a lot- "Who's that old person?" I also hear, "Well, I guess that's me." Even though they may look in the mirror every day to shave and put on makeup, they don't expect to see clouded eyes, wrinkled skin, lopsided mouths, discolored teeth when they see themselves in the camera.

I had a lull in activity and I was poking around the game room where we stage the photos while I waited for the next group. I saw a little lucite box filled with cards- white with black print. The first one said, "Who do you sorely miss?"  It struck me, because I had recently been missing my grandma Genevieve more than usual. I flipped through the other cards in the box; they were discussion questions, table topics, part of an old game. I liked the questions they asked, so I've decided to use these cards as my blog post themes until they run out.

So, tune in next week, when our theme will be Who Do You Sorely Miss.
And please share your answers as well.