Tuesday, December 16, 2014

That's the Way

     I almost always have Pandora playing when I sit down to blog, probably because it helps distract a part of my brain enough to let me focus on getting things out in a cohesive order. Tonight, for example, AC/DC and Guns N Roses are doing a fine job keeping me entertained and happy. I know it's nine days before Christmas and I should probably be trying to get in a more seasonal mood with any of the dozens of Christmas stations Pandora has ready to go, but what can I say? Power chords make me cheerful. And right now, despite the fact that I've worked late every night for more than a week and likely will continue to right up until my office closes for Christmas, I'm happy. I feel good about my husband's health and the the general state of our corner of the world for the first time in months.

     A lot of that has to do with the fact that he's still rocking right along with his fentanyl patches, and even his primary care physician was delighted with the length of time he's been able to stay out of the emergency room. It's no small feat, let me tell you, what his medical professional has been able to accomplish with those innocuous-looking strips of plastic. Nobody in St. Louis managed it, despite their best attempts, and it took damn near a year in Charlotte before we stumbled onto this new plan. Not that I really care who figured it out or how; we were at the point that a juggling monkey could have walked up to him and suggested a magic potion and we probably would have tried it. Exhaustion and desperation does weird things to your head, kids.

     Still, that's not the main reason both my husband and I have been in such a good mood lately, a downright festive one. (This is a particular accomplishment for my husband, who's generally rather Grinch-like when it comes to the holiday season.) This year, we make what was probably a not the wisest financial decision, but one that feels better and more right than just about anything we've done in a long damn time - we tried as hard as we could to make Christmas as awesome as we could for a family back home, because they wouldn't have had one otherwise, and neither one of us could stomach that.

     See, the main newspaper in St. Louis, the Post Dispatch, runs a series every year around the holidays, The 100 Neediest Cases. I remember seeing these even as a little kid, and every year, I was always heartbroken reading about these families, many of whom were in dire situations due to medical issues and disabilities. (Most people have no idea how the extra bills that are part and parcel of less-than-stellar health can blow your budget out of the water; we know that fight.) We always participated in what many call an Angel Tree at the church I attended as a child, and I know my mom routinely collected the clothes and shoes my sister and I outgrew in order to donate them, but that was about as hands-on as I could get at that stage of my life.

     My parents were never what you'd consider well-off, or hell, even financially stable. We were, and are, lower working-class and still somehow, my sister and I grew up mostly ignorant of the challenges my parents faced on a weekly basis, compounded further when my father's cancer was discovered the summer I was twelve. My dad underwent radiation and chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumor before undergoing surgery that fall, and still worked 40+ hours a week, because we had bills to pay. Even after learning, much later, that it took them over a decade to pay off the tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills our pitiful-at-the-time health insurance didn't cover, I still consider us lucky, because there are a hell of a lot of people out there who don't have a fraction of the support that my family had and will never be without.

     They may not have been well-paid, but at least  my parents both had full time jobs with benefits, and a safe, warm home to live in, one that my dad, along with assorted cousins and uncles and friends, built on the property that my mother inherited from her grandfather. My sister and I may have had our closets supplemented by hand-me-downs from our cousins, but our clothes were always clean and presentable, and we never had to worry that there was a limited amount of food in the house. That's so often not the case for a lot of families, though, and it seems like it always hits hardest at Christmas.

     A few weeks ago, I was reading through the list of the cases, and I just couldn't stand it. I could not in good conscience sit in my warm house, albeit a rented one, and not do something. I fully admit that I was crying as I read through the cases, in part because I'm just a bleeding heart in general, but in larger part because I saw in those families my husband and I. If the cards had fallen just a little bit differently, it could have been our story in that newspaper, and I had to stop and give way to the thought, "There but for the grace of my family go I."

     If you look at that list, (and you should, I linked you right to it) you will notice that the recurring theme, the one that rears its head over and over, is poor health and disability. People so often take it for granted, the ability to get out of bed every morning and earn a living, however large or small. They take it for granted that they don't have to figure out  how to pay for expensive medications AND their children's school supplies, They don't consider what it might be like to face the almost-impossible choice of going to the emergency room to get treatment for the excruciating pain or going to work in spite of it, because if you miss another day, you're out on your ass. It happens every day, every damn day, and it seems sometimes like no one sees the obvious common denominator.

     I see it, and it's one I live in fear of. When my husband lost his job a few years ago, we were scared, no doubt. We had bills to pay, plus the additional cost of the health insurance that we now had to pay for in full, but couldn't go without, because no. The Marfan's causes waaaaay too many problems to risk a performance without a safety net. In my heart, though, I knew we wouldn't go without food, without shelter, without his medicine, because our family and friends would never let that happen, not in a million years. My faith God may be questionable at best, but my faith in my family has never wavered.

     So with this in mind, I called my mom, who works for a non-profit that offers assistance of many kinds to disabled individuals in my home county, to find me a family that my husband and I could help. I told her it would need to be a family, either parents or a single parent, with one child, because my husband and I do not have a great deal of disposable income, and I knew we couldn't take care of more than that. She found someone for us, a young single mother and her little girl; the mother had added her name to a list along with hundred of others, hoping to be "adopted" so that her daughter could have something to open Christmas morning.

     She didn't even ask for any toys or fun stuff, just warm clothes and a pair of slippers. As my heart broke for the 582nd time, I discussed with my husband the woman's requests, and we decided that we were going to do everything we could to give them a great holiday. We probably went too far from a practical standpoint, spending money we don't really have to spend, but neither of us can bring ourselves to give a damn. The truth is, between my student loans and my husband's outstanding medical debt, splurging a bit isn't going to make much of a difference in the long run, so why not just go for it head-first and make someone happy? More, why not take the opportunity to take care of our fellow human beings as best we could?

     I mean, we've made progress on his med bills, with the current balance, while still in the ugly range, better than it used to be, and we've (mostly) made peace with my school debt. So we celebrated by sharing what we've got with someone who has even less, through no fault of thier own, because it could so, so easily have been us. I really believe we would be less than productive, accountable members of society if we ignored that could-have-been and just shook our heads sadly at the situation. Also I'd feel like an asshole.

     Now we have a lovely box of stuff to send, things that I really enjoyed picking out for this family's Christmas. It makes me so happy to think of these two in their new Christmas jammies (pajamas, for those of you who do not remember being five years old), watching their new movies and just enjoying the day; that scenario has kept me going through a really rough week at work, and my husband has told me on  more than one occasion that he's happy we could help. Normally, my neuroses would be screaming right about now, freaking out about the money spent when we're trying so hard to get things paid down, but I've heard not a peep out of my head, not once. It's just peaceful and warm and content in there.

     I will say, I wish there didn't have to be a once-yearly event like Christmas for people (myself included) to think about things like this, because it's a 365-days-a-year struggle that so many face. I think it's important to bring things like this to light (Shocking! She wants to talk about unpleasantness!), that just being a more concerned, conscientious member of society can bring such rewards. In my case, it's a happiness and a calm I haven't felt in forever, and a reminder to be check my attitude when I feel like venting frustrations needlessly. If others can keep moving forward through hardships with a smile on their face, there's no excuse for me not be able to do the same. For my husband, it's a sense of being able to help someone when he so often feels helpless. Here, at last, is something he can understand and relate to, someone he can do something for. It's a good feeling, for once, to feel like we can actually do something for someone else.


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