Sunday night’s bedside reading about the dire straits of Haitians 6-months post earthquake (The New York Times, cover story, July 11,2010) regurgitated Monday night by Katy Couric on the CBS news were the two times I felt I must live in a world some people can’t even imagine.
I actually have running water, electricity, don’t live in fear of being raped, have summer and winter handbags, and two kinds of Bing cherries are in my fridge in pretty bowls.
But Haiti is far away, earthquakes are known to wreak havoc and I’m embarrassed to say that the “blessed feeling” evaporated pretty damn quickly because the landscaper emailed late Monday night and I had to choose new trees for phase II of my landscaping project. It was pretty intense.
But Tuesday morning, the experience in my local community made me finally get it. I understand now that my life isn’t grand at times but never strays from the bounty of an abundance of choices and opportunities to turn things around. Luck has helped. And some people just don’t have good luck.
Task: Change the direct deposit banking information for my 94-year-old dad’s social security check
Location: The Social Security Administration Building in downtown Pensacola, FL
It’s 8:07AM on this sweltering morning as I take my place in the line of people waiting to get in the door at 8:30. I’m totally surprised that there are over 50 people already here. For what, I’m not sure, but it looks as if they all could use some cheering up. Most are not arriving in their own cars but are being dropped off. Some just come walking through the vacant lot next door.
People in wheelchairs and walkers look like they have an issue to be solved but so do the clusters of people holding other people up. Many people hold hands and talk low to one another.
All that makes for a wobbly looking line. Fortuitous because what we’re all going to do once we get in the building – bob and weave through this system as best we can.
Here are the rules: Take a number, sit down, be quiet, no food, water or cell phones and now wait for your number to be called.
“Number C –as in Charlie – 27 reports to Window E”
By 8:35AM thirty more people have shown up and the walls are lined with enough diversity to qualify for an award. People seem to know one another and I watch as two blondes greet one another.
Blonde #1: Hey, how are you hon?
Blonde #2: Oh, okay.
Blonde #1: Where you livin’ now?
Blonde #2: Oh, hon, I’m back in rehab. It’s my third time.
Blonde #1: Which one? They treat you good?
Blonde #2: Over at Bright Futures this time. It’s pretty good.
Blonde #3: Well, that’s how it goes – good and bad. You hang in there.
Leron, sitting next to me, wants me to hold his number while he goes out for a smoke. “Please, miss,” he pleads, “I gots to have this smoke.” But I tell Leron they are getting close to his number and he needs to just hang on. (He does.)
There’s a lot of life unfolding in this government office. Babies cry, old people stare straight ahead, one woman takes off her wig because it’s getting hot while a young man in camouflage drawstring bottoms buttons up a flannel shirt. Feelings of desperation seep from the peeling paint on the walls.
No one talks about why they are there; it’s an unwritten rule. If you are a “have not,” you don’t mess with the system.
I didn’t bring my Kindle, have run out of reading material and now am forced to look around and think. Who are these people in my community? What happened to bring them here for what seems to each one very crucial to making life a little better? Somehow I don’t get the feeling that it’s their entire fault but that Lady Luck got a little aggravated, dealt a bad card for their deck and they can’t get rid of it.
While I will escape after only one visit with a victory under my belt, people like Arna on her 9th visit probably won’t escape and won’t win. (When asked why she was there, she said, “I’d talk about it to you but it won’t help.”)
In my lifetime I’ve marched up and down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. And with full self-disclosure spent most of it paying my mortgage on time, shopping without a food budget and wrestling the big-bad monster of self-actualization. Today, one of my biggest challenges is how to live my “best life.” (And I bet that’s yours too.) Finding “peak experiences” is also a critical issue to my well-being.
After three hours, I drove away from the Social Security Administration Office on my merry way through life. But in those hours burnished upon my brow was, “HAVE.” And in a room full of “HAVE NOTS,” I wondered how much I’ve really created my present life. Or could a mighty stroke of luck – born to good parents, strong healthy genes and a sound mind –played a bigger part than I realize. These accidents of life are not my doing and that’s the rub since I tend to like to feel I’m responsible in some way for my lot in life.
I’ll be riding by that Social Security building in my little town for years to come. I’m taking bets (and hoping) that a mental replay of my time there be a constant reminder that fortune has smiled on me. I am blessed ….really blessed.