I have an orange card bearing a picture of the Mackinac Bridge in my wallet. It’s in the left fold of the wallet, and it sits alone there, so that it can be easily seen whenever I flip it open.
A lot of other people have the same card in their wallets, but many of them take great care to hide it. Why? Because it’s the Bridge Card, the device through which the state delivers food and welfare assistance to the poor people of Michigan. And many people who are poor in money but rich in arrogance look down on people who need that card to survive.
I have no use for that card anymore. I lost my meager $16 a month in food assistance when I balked at a new state law that requires people to prove they have less than $5,000 in the bank. When the state demanded that proof I had only $100 in the bank, and I needed to survive on that for more than a week. It would have cost me $15 to get the documentation together to show I wasn’t squirreling away $5,000, and I just couldn’t afford to do it.
And as I start a new, full-time job tomorrow, I truly have no need for the card. But I will hold on to it, anyway. And I will keep it in a place that makes it likely others will see it when I go to pay for groceries, clothes, gasoline or anything else. In fact, I will keep it there hoping others see it. But most of all, I hope I continue to see it. I want to remember.
I never want to forget what it is like to be poor and afraid. I don’t want to forget the desperation I felt. I don’t want to forget that there are millions of people in this state who still need that card to stay fed and housed. Now, as I get ready to start a job where I hope to make a real difference for these people, I never want to forget that for a time, I was one of them.
There are a few blog entries I’ve had in mind to write, but I wanted to be able to write them in the past tense. I wanted to share the things I’ve learned along the way, so that maybe they might help others who suddenly find their lives upside down and have to figure out what to do after an unexpected layoff.
The first is a series on “Things to do (and not do) when you’re unemployed.” Being suddenly out of work is hard in ways that someone who’s not endured it before might not imagine. Finding work is just one of the challenges. I’ve heard it said that when you’re out of work, finding a job is your full-time job, but I disagree. Your full-time job is taking care of yourself, which means fending off crippling despair and paralyzing fear. Your search for work can only be handled at 100 percent once that is taken care of.
The second is “The rich person’s quick-start guide to poverty.” I’m almost embarrassed to write this, as I know there are people born in poverty who die in poverty and who know nothing else in between. They know a lot more about survival than I do, and to be honest, more than I hope I ever need to know. But for people like me who find themselves suddenly poor, it’s not an easy adjustment. I hope to have learned a few things that might help someone else.
Now that this episode in my life is coming to a close, it’s time to get to work.