I recently received an anonymous letter. Now no leader is immune to these things, and I’ve gotten a few in my day. Generally they are nasty and often incoherent ravings which I don’t bother reading. This one was decidedly different. This one was a cry for help. But since I don’t know who sent it, I can’t respond. I know only what she has told me about herself in a 3-page letter.
M is a person not unlike many of you reading this blog. She says she has a good sense of humor. She is a single woman from a middle-class, two-parent family who has worked hard to create a good life for herself. She has struggled successfully with health problems and problems of self-esteem for the past 10 years and has learned to cope, in her words, “without self-medicating (food/alcohol/drugs).”
M successfully bought and sold her first house, making a tidy profit. She re-educated herself about U.S. history from the working people’s point of view and found her life’s passion as an activist. She opened the first fair-trade shop in her area and created a peace movement in her hometown. Having previously lived in Portland for a short time, she decided to move here and dedicate herself “to creating a just and equitable society with the good people in the City of Roses.”
But job hunting in Portland has been daunting. After a life of successful employment, she can find nothing. When she wrote the letter, she was less than two weeks from being kicked out of her rented room and needing to live in her van. She needs money for food, medical care, and transportation. She is asking herself the question, “How is it that an able-bodied person with good work skills and a positive mental and spiritual outlook . . . who comes from a solid middle-class family with loving and supportive parents be standing on an economic cliff, just waiting to be pushed off?”
Had you come to me for counseling, I would have given you a cup of tea. We would have sat quietly together, and I would have listened. I would have tried to get to know you not only by your words, but by your facial expressions, by the quality of your voice. I would have tried to be fully present with you during our time together. I might have said some of the following things:
I’m so sorry that you are in such a state of fear and pain. You may feel alone in all of this, but so many people in our church and in Portland and all over the country are facing similar frightening circumstances. You may feel alone also, because you’re new to our city–but there are many compassionate people who care, and some of them may be found in our church. Come to the church and visit with one of the ministers, or a lay minister.
Please do not blame yourself for the situation you’re facing–it’s all too easy for an unemployed person to think that there’s something wrong with them. That’s just not true. Our unemployment rate is in the double-digits in this state–and those stats don’t include all those who have given up looking for work and all those who are under-employed. You’ve had problems with self-esteem in the past, and these same demons may reappear while you’re going through this vulnerable period. Keep telling yourself that you are not the problem.
In your letter you say that this economic crisis is proof that the current economic model is not viable. I couldn’t agree more. We are trying to “bail out” a system that is corrupt and finally imploded upon itself. We are going to have to reimagine how we want to be together as a people, and we’re going to have to create an economic model that is inclusive of the well-being of all, not just the wealthy. With your understanding of class and your commitment to change, you will be a part of creating that new future.
As to how we got in this fix–and it is a world-wide phenomenon, of course–the short answer is “sin.” Too many people were willing to look away from what they knew to be true, because they were being enriched by a system that had no integrity, that was bound to fail. Government and business ane functionally interchangeable, and one might even say that the main purpose of government in this country is to protect and support big business. Until the people say “no more!” shameful economic inequity will continue, I hope that the bankers and money brokers and government officials who turned a blind eye to our economic disaster-in-the-making understand that real human beings like you–millions of them–are suffering terribly because of their selfishness and lack of responsibility.
The last question in your letter is “When will it end?” I wish I could prophesy, and tell you. But no one can, because the situation we are facing is unprecedented. Thus far, we have been throwing old solutions at a new problem–kind of like treating AIDS with lots and lots of penicillin.
I will tell you this–it will end, though, because human beings eventually figure stuff out. All of us have to be a part of the new age that is coming. In the meantime, find a community. Know that you are not alone. Know that you a good person. Know that the future will open once again for you, as it has in the past.
Bless you, my dear, wherever you are. Though I don’t know you, know that I’m thinking of you.