I’ve never truly been poor. At times of critical need, my parents have helped me out. I am lucky to have family to fall back on—that’s part of my privilege. But my experience of being a single mom for the last three+ years while earning not quite enough to make ends meet, then getting laid off eight months ago (with no unemployment benefits, ahem!), scrambling to find work, and finding myself underemployed…well, it’s taught me some things.
“One must be poor to know the luxury of giving.” –George Eliot
It’s not just financial giving that suffers from lack of security. It’s also the proactive, forward-thinking, emotionally secure giving of time, attention, and energy. I’ve been financially stressed now for about three years—ever since the smoke cleared on the divorce. For the last 18 months, I’ve been looking for the kind of job (or combination of jobs) that would give me and my kids the security we need. Sometimes I came tantalizingly close—or found one piece of the puzzle but then couldn’t find the next piece I needed—but on the whole, I was thwarted time and time again. (Maybe that English Lit degree and Master’s in Theology wasn’t the best career move. Who could have guessed?)
It’s all taken a toll. A financial toll, sure—but maybe more significantly, a mental toll. An emotional toll.
Whereas my previous normal state of being was a hopeful one that paid attention to current events and jumped into community-building action, I know that over the last few years, I’ve pulled back. I’ve had to. It was all I could do, sometimes, to get up out of bed and do the things required of me to take care of my kids and function in the world. Lead the charge on any given policy issue or community-building project in my spare time? I didn’t have the capacity. Sure, I cared—but some days, I was falling to pieces. I couldn’t lead the charge on changing the world; I could barely make it through the day intact. (Sound familiar? Read this.)
At one point, I had to write a short explanation to ask permission to give less, financially, in order to be a member of my congregation. I cried. And while I am deeply, wholeheartedly grateful for the financial support that has made it possible for my kids to participate in youth group and Jewish summer camp experiences, I have to tell you: the scholarship applications are time-consuming, difficult, and onerous. As I waded through the hours of paperwork, I was acutely aware that people who have more money also have more time.
I’ve wanted to give more—of my finances, of myself. I’ve known all along that I have much to give; I’m smart, capable, and creative; the world needs what I have to offer. But in a prolonged period of financial stress, I haven’t been able to give the way I’d like to. Giving, it turns out, is a luxury.
In related news, these three+ years have been an instructive time of re-centering. In the midst of deeply challenging personal/family upheaval, its fallout, and financial struggle, I feel like I’ve made good choices. I’ve created a safe, positive home environment for my kids. I’ve prioritized them, our larger family system, and our network of friends and community—and our community has, in turn, been a huge support to us in so many ways. In my spare time, I planted some trees, read good books, cooked simple meals, and worked on a few art projects. I am stronger, more focused, and more whole than I’ve ever been.
Sometimes things feel damned hard. But I like who I am and I’m proud of my choices. Maybe, at the end of the day, that plus a good community of friends and family is all we need. Oh, and a paycheck! Because let’s be real. That shit matters.
p.s. I start a new job soon, and look forward to the new experience, post-divorce, of having ends meet. Hell, maybe I’ll even start to pay down some of my debt! Here’s to a new chapter.