Tuesday, April 20, 2010


They say that those people who live in the poorest countries are often the happiest people, by some scientific metric that can measure out happiness like a dealer measures out cocaine. The idea is that our culture, for all its riches, has created a state of elite unhappiness where our money just opens this void of want which we all suffer neurotically from.

I don’t know if that’s true, but I can tell you this: whoever made such a bullshit claim was never poor.

And I’m not talking the ‘oh, I can’t afford to go out this weekend’ kind of poor. That poor is certainly frustrating, and I understand that there’s a certain quality of life hit that happens when you can’t fit in all your immediate wants. Regardless, I’m talking about the poor that’s several degrees separated from your every day poor.

Maybe you haven’t experienced this kind of poor. The poor where you would come home from work or school and be unsure which utility would be shut off that day. The poor where you wonder how you’re going to stretch what’s in the kitchen out another two weeks. When those mystery cans in the pantry that just kind of sit forever start to get opened up. When you start taking showers by candlelight.

There’s something demoralizing about that kind of poor. There’s no nobility to that kind of life. No secret to happiness. There is fear and stress and hate. Lots of hate. Hate for yourself, hate for those around you, envy of anyone who is obviously better off. It’s a festering kind of existence, where the lack becomes a cancerous growth that begins to dominate your life.

I don’t know if I can properly explain such a thing to someone who’s never felt it. But it feels … unjust. As though you are singularly being persecuted. As though the entire world is about to fall upon your shoulders. When you fall to those depths, you start to see all the cracks where people get lost. The places where society will just forget about you. Where the system doesn’t go. Where life hits rock bottom and dead ends and points of no return. It’s scary, to see how quickly a life can go from normal member of society to homeless, penniless, an utter wreck.

This is how my life was during my late teens. Actually, up until about three years ago, even. It was a continued existence of mental anguish, of moving to place to place. Relying on the efforts of strangers to keep off of the streets or out of the shelters. I don’t know if I learned any lessons from that time, but the memory is burned into my mind forever. The encroaching despair.

I only bring it up because I realized recently that this is no longer my life. I work a job that pays the bills. I am in a place where I will live as long as I choose to. The debts are getting paid off, slowly but surely. I no longer have to choose between food and gas. In fact, I don’t have to choose between anything. The years of living paycheck to paycheck are, in a sense, over. I have a surplus between each payday.

To someone who grew up like I did, the very idea of a surplus is a magical talisman, a sense of ‘having it made’, of being of a better class. I am the person who five years ago I would have resented. That knowledge makes it easier to deal with those lingering doubts, that old feeling of resentment that still sometimes crops up when I do see people making out better than I. It’s all relative, and I no longer want for anything material.

I don’t have a neat conclusion for this one. Normally I try to talk about lessons learned, but this is something that just occurred to me last week, and I don’t have any answers to it. It’s come along with a bunch of other related problems, but they are well outside the scope of this little essay-thing. So … I don’t know what to leave you with.

Once upon a time a boy worried about his life collapsing. Now, as a man, he worries far less about such immediate concerns. Not that the boy lived happily ever after, but it’s something. The end.

Thanks for following along.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

I've run around the edge of that lake. Congratulations. You made it, I made it (so far) and many more will. It's an experience to make you really evaluate what's most important. I'm honored you'd share something this personal.

Thank you.