I had a ‘but for the grace of god goes I’ moment today.
For many months, I’ve been absorbed in my life, my self-doubts, my madness. And then I was forced off my little island, away from the comfort of my lair and into the big, bad world.
Julie, the spoiled; Julie, the privileged; Julie, she with her head up her ass
with her first world problems and neuroses.
I was in the Lynn Economic Opportunity office. I had no business being there, among the truly needy — single moms struggling with multiple jobs to keep their kids fed, clothed and relatively healthy; older folks trying to get by with meager, monthly social security payments.
Why was I there? I was trying to get income verified for a Barrier Mitigation Grant, a program administered by Mass Save and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources for middle-income homeowners so they could grab a chunk of money from the state to get rid of asbestos containing materials during a home improvement project.
As I sat down to wait my turn, it occured to me that many of those who came into this office were likely homeless or living in section 8 housing. There were WIC brochures and information about Head Start and fuel assistance programs in kiosks on the wall.
And here I was, with my canvas bag full of mortgage papers, account statements from my brokerage, a passport, a list of estate debts and an inheritance.
Julie, the non-hispanic white caucasion; Julie, the fortunate;
Julie, the loathsome.
When it came time, I took a seat at the woman’s desk and prefaced my financial story with a lame apology, something to the effect of “I’m a bit embarrassed to be here, as I’m much better off than many,” followed quickly by, “I just want to say, you’re doing very important work here. Thank you.”
It sounded ridiculous, and I felt like the pathetic, self-righteous, holier than thou white girl that she was no doubt sizing me up as. But she handled my awkwardness graciously and seemed pleased with the compliment.
I wonder now how those in the Lynn Economic Opportunities office feel about acting as a clearinghouse for what’s certainly a stream of middle-class folks trying to get those elusive cash grants. She was polite enough not to let on.
What was more embarrassing was that, taking just my income into consideration, she said it looked like I was in their low-income range. Surely not! I have substantial stock and IRA portfolios, my own house, and last year, before mom and dad passed away, they supplemented my income whenever I had trouble paying the bills. But because I was a freelance worker, they immediately knocked 40% off my wages for their calculations. That’s the rules. It seemed wrong somehow.
Dad would say, jokingly, “We never should have raised you to be so honest. That will be your undoing.” Perhaps. But they also raised me to be compassionate towards others, and to recognize injustices, however slight.
They both worked in the medical field, helping people in large and small ways. Mom was a registered nurse. Dad was a medical equipment researcher, with patents for light and sound scanning devices that could detect breast and prostate cancers. They both served in the Navy during World War II. After retirement, Mom volunteered at the local blood bank and cared for an elderly neighbor whose own family had abandoned. She became my adopted grandmother. When I was young, Mom brought me along to collect old clothing for the Revitalization Corp, a charity group in Hartford. Me? I’m a wannabe writer with a few clients and a half-baked notion to write novels “someday.”
Julie — the underachiever, the anxious, the unwashed.
Helping people afford asbestos abatement, whether they’re low income or middle income isn’t really a big deal. It’s expensive work, and many people earning even $45,000 a year, especially in the Boston area, won’t have $10,000 available for a home improvement project, even for one that could have health ramifications. Truth be told, a $7,000 abatement grant is nothing compared to the special treatment in place for the wealthy, from tax loopholes to offshore bank accounts, so that they can hold onto more of their money.
Do the wealthy also ponder the unfairness of it all?
Maybe I’ll get some assistance. Maybe I won’t. But one thing I do realize now is that I must find a way to give back, somehow, to those not as fortunate as I. This is the real reason I was in that office this morning.
Julie, the awakened; Julie, the humbled; Julie, the grateful.