“Life Takes Visa”
~ Visa Card commercial
“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
In Part 1 of this series, I asked folks from our community what were the negative aspects to living with limited financial resources, or in plainer words, “bein’ po!” The responses were full of sadness, but also humor and wisdom. I then asked what were the gifts, the advantages of living with little money. Here’s what I heard:
• I have gotten to know my city better, searching for free concerts, new transportation routes, free or low-cost items. And through that exploration, getting to meet and become friends with new people.
• A stronger connection to my family. Money issues can often drive families apart, but when my illness took away my financial independence, my whole family rallied behind me, and my hard times became our hard times. And our hard times are now leading to a closer, sharing, more loving family.
• I’ve learned the lost art of writing letters. I didn’t have time for anything but five word e-mails, and I hadn’t actually written anything since kindergarten it seems. But now the words are different, more important when they’re slowly written. They mean more, I’m more careful in what I say, and I try to make each letter I send a treasure, something precious. I journal now, and even write poetry. My handwriting is getting better, but it has to be that bad so people don’t find out about my atrocious spelling!
• I don’t go to the Mall anymore. And now it’s often said, well, mostly by me, that it’s made me a kinder, gentler, smarter, sexier, more humble human being.
• I once had a lot of stuff, “toys,” belongings, just “stuff” that weighed me down. It’s so true that you don’t own your belongings, they end up owning you. I’ve had to cut back because of lack of money and lack of space, but even though I’m less physically “mobile,” it’s made me more “mobile!”
• I appreciate what I’ve got more than ever. I have some prized books that I keep, some beautiful art on the wall, especially a drawing that my godchild drew when she was five, a picture of her holding my hand. I wouldn’t trade it for an original Picasso. Before life gave me a wake-up call, the “fast track” was blinding me to the beauty in the little things around me. “Slowing down” has given me a gift I didn’t expect, but has turned out to be the best lesson I ever learned: you can’t buy “slowed down.” Sometimes you get lucky like I did, or sometimes you just have to do it.
• Without money Christmas was a hard, shameful time for me. I have had to learn how to make presents for my family and friends instead of buying things. I bake cookies, I make greeting cards, I make personalized collages, find ideas everywhere for new creations, and I’m finding that as I use my creativity, it’s evolving and growing. My handmade gifts have become the most prized in my family. My sister called last Christmas and said that she doesn’t have the time to do anything more than buy some DVDs for everyone. Her gifts are watched once and then forgotten. But she said my gifts touch hearts and become prized possessions within my family. And now she is going to come over more at the holidays and spend more time with me making special gifts. I got off the phone and cried when she told me that.
• I don’t think that living with a chronic illness or disability and also being poor automatically makes you a more courageous person. But it sure gives you lots of opportunities to find that courage!
• I’m more self-reliant now. It used to be that for many situations, I’d just whip out the Master Card. I’d draw it like a gun, and I was the Fastest Charger in the West! Not so easy now, so I have to be smarter, more creative. My injury threw me into a different “mouse maze.” And when you have to find a new way through the maze of life, you either become a very frustrated mouse or a very creative one.
• My job title is much fancier now. In the ‘80s, when I was (so-called) “able-bodied,” I was just an unemployed (mostly) (probably ‘cause of that rascal Reagan) construction worker. But now that I’m (so-called) “dis-abled” (sounds like an old Yugo) I’ve had a chance to talk in public (I imagine my audience as all naked. And Reagan) about living with a disability. So now I’m a “Disability Ambassador” or perhaps “Disability Heart-throb!”
Next month is Part 3, the lessons learned.
Pete Feigal can be contacted at [email protected]