When I was 19, I was living on my own, working full-time,
and paying all of my own bills.
suddenly had a spate of medical issues that put me deeply in debt, despite my
health insurance, and in dire financial straits.
I mean dire.
I recall one time when I was out of money with a week to go until
And by out of money, I mean that
I was able to cull about two bucks in pennies and nickles out of the corners of my wallet and the cushions of my
couch to get me fed, to and from work, and meeting my basic life needs until
At the time I smoked, so cigs
were part of those basic life needs.
Don’t judge; we all smoked back then.
For a time, when I told the story of this week in my life,
it was the classic “And I made it by sheer courage and force of will”
I bought a loaf of stale bread
from the bakery outlet from around the corner, and ate an egg sandwich for
breakfast, and an egg sandwich for dinner.
I skipped lunch.
I managed to
make my pack of smokes last a week.
I made it until payday.
All by myself.
Because that’s what winners do.
But reality was completely different.
I did eat egg sandwiches for breakfast and
I did get the day-old bread from
the bakery outlet.
But I also had a
family and friends and resources to help.
I didn’t skip lunch.
I remember a
coworker bringing me a pretzel – one of those big bakery kinds – out of the
kindness of his heart, and pretending he didn’t want it.
Another friend sported me endless smokes – an
absolute need when you’re hungry.
the eggs for the egg sandwiches as a donation from my father, who gave me the idea to get the
day-old bread, too.
And my parents
offered me all the free meals I needed, if I needed them.
It’s true that no one else paid my bills, but
I certainly didn’t do it on my own.
And that’s what I hate about the modern bootstraps
The one that says, “I was hungry,
cold, and needy, but I pulled myself up and muscled my way through it.”
Because that’s a lie.
No one does it on their own, and to say that
they do is to discount the luck that most of us have – either to have families
to help, or friends to provide support.
my support system just happened to be people with enough money and means to
help me out.
There are folks who just
don’t have that.
They are in need, and
their friends and families are in need.
They don’t have that person to sport them a dozen eggs, cigarettes,
medication, housing, money, emotional support, or whatever they need.
All that surrounds them is more need.
Anymore, I don’t want or need to say that I got through that
week on my own.
I’m fortunate as hell to
say that I had people around me to help.
Who wouldn’t let me starve or come to harm.
And it would be the absolute height of
arrogance for me to say that I did it on my own.
No one in this world can do it on his or her
We all need people.
And there comes a time when we need to be
those people, too.
There’s a popular phrase, “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for
a day; teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for life.”
Well, I think that phrase is what
sanctimonious assholes say.
you have to give a man a fucking fish.
Kindness and caring go a long way, and to deny it to others because you
have your own bootstrap story is revisionist history, and not helpful to
someone who’s hungry and in need.
In this season of giving, we often look for a charitable
cause that’s “worthy” of our largesse.
But in truth, anyone in need is worthy.
We’ve all been there, and we’ve all received help – whether we want to
acknowledge that help or not.
we can do is return the favor.