We’re all free in this country — every one of us. We’re free to get up every morning and go to (or look for) the job of our choice in a field we alone select. We’re free to partake of a multitude of educational and training opportunities, eat as much of our favorite food as we like, visit with friends no matter what persuasion, and live wherever and with whomever we choose this side of prison bars. We can opt to be solitary, slovenly, communal, or activist. We can complain, teach, change, and create. We can regurgitate the drivel of whatever radio nimrod we enjoy listening to and wear t-shirts emblazoned with any idiotic slogan we pick. Freedom is not an issue for us in this country.
But independence… ahhhh, there’s a concept for you.
This economic downturn we’re riding, coupled with whatever karmic episodes are individually coincidental to it, has been a trip for some of us. We’ve experienced what it’s like to lose control of our world because money drives absolutely everything in it, and the concept of individual responsibility, which is beyond reproach on its face, tends to feed a negative community or social judgment about people in need, making matters worse. Trite but true: Money doesn’t buy happiness, but poverty absolutely buys misery.
Danger! Danger, Will Robinson! Just because things have always been so doesn’t mean they always will be.
You are forty-nine years old. You are in a long-term relationship, own a home you can afford, and have been in a stable job for years. You pay your bills and taxes on time, have lots of friends, and are active in your community. You vote, go to church some Sundays, have never been arrested, and always help your neighbors when they need it. In short, you’re a typical responsible, law-abiding, middle-class American. Then one ordinary Tuesday, your home burns down because a squirrel gnaws through an electrical wire. No one is hurt. You move into an economical hotel with your LTR and dog. You get laid off because, as Murphy’s Law would have it, your employer has to cut-back at just that moment. You continue paying your bills as usual from your 401(k) and savings, expecting an insurance settlement any day. After six months, your insurance company announces it won’t pay because they have a “no squirrels” clause in the fine print on page 73 of your policy. Your LTR leaves you because s/he ‘didn’t sign up for this.’ You stay with a series of friends, trying to move on just before you wear out your welcome. You spend every day trying to figure out what to do next. You pick up occasional temporary work and put on your happy face, but many of your friends have pulled away because nobody likes to be reminded of how fickle the fates are. You run out of money. The bank forecloses. They repossess your car. Depression creeps in. A year goes by. You turn fifty. Everything in your world has disintegrated. The IRS sends you a bill for taxes owed on the early withdrawal of your 401(k). You get the flu, but can’t go to the doctor because you lost your health insurance when you lost your job. Your good credit is ruined and you can’t get even a small apartment on your own. Friends have to co-sign for you. Simple pleasures, like manicures and movies and routine dental cleanings, are a thing of the past. You skip birthday parties because you can’t afford a gift. Sadness overwhelms you. Some days you can’t get off the sofa. You thank God for your dog, who at least makes you get out of bed. You spend countless hours wondering what it all means and how you are going to recover. You are constantly reminded that you are just one friend and one tank of gas in your borrowed car away from welfare, a fate, to you, worse than death. The only thing you know for sure is that through no fault of your own, you have lost your independence — you have lost your ability to take care of yourself — and the feeling is just this side of despair.”
There is no more convincing teacher than experience (dammit). So, please, take it from me. In your lifetime, this sort of thing really could and probably will happen at least once, if not to you, then to someone you care about. Please don’t let our government make it harder than it has to be. Write your Congress people. That’s the freedom part. Tell them not to value corporations over people. Tell them not to unravel our social safety nets.
Happy Independence Day!