Column by Dan Newman
I don’t make it a secret that I’m broke, but truth is I’ve been far worse in the past.
It’s how I know my way around the low-rent scene this well. Let’s get the ugly stuff out of the way – I’ve been homeless, addicted, broken, abused, thrown away, forgotten and disowned. Not gonna play the blame game either, but instead I’ll admit most of that was my fault.
Be it not asking for help, or asking for too much, or putting myself in messed up circumstances that fell me victim to whatever by whomever for, what? Unlike so many others, my past looks like striations off an old wound that won’t mend. But I own it and I’m currently on an upswing, so there’s that.
So what I’m thankful for this holiday season is all the help I’ve been given on this weird journey we call life. I’m not talking about a $20 spot here or there so I can eat that week, although I appreciate any acts of kindness. I’m talking today about the big things, and the anonymous many who quite frankly allowed me to be alive today through their generosity.
The charities, driven mainly by donations, have helped me out over the years more than I’d like to admit. We all hit rough patches, but some hit harder than others. I’ve been in some ridiculous situations, and my return to normalcy would not have been possible without assistance from charities. The cost of this normalcy is I no longer qualify for any of the programs.
Which is cool in its own way, don’t get me wrong, but it kinda feels like I left my people. These places like the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, The Neighbors place, who knows what others, they really help people in need. People who have the means donate and these places provide food, clothing, shelter, help with bills, whatever, to the working poor. If you can prove you need it, and they have the funds, they’ll help you out. And because of them, the forgotten majority can stay afloat another month.
It’s strangers helping strangers who help other strangers. It’s beautiful in a way.
So what happens here is I stabilize myself with the goal of becoming one of the strangers who give back. Gotta repay my debt, but I’ll pay it forward to some people I’ll never meet. Maybe it’ll be a poor family living in squalor, or a guy alone in an apartment struggling with his own demons. These people are like mirrors to me, so by pulling myself out it’s become my obligation to help them in a language we have in common.
Is that weird to have a goal to be in the position to donate and give back? Doesn’t mesh well with what we were taught in school, but it feels right.
On the other side, sitting in utilitarian offices drenched in fluorescent, filling out form after form and copies of this and that ready to submit, I never understood the strangers who gave the money to help me. The thought process at that level is no one has anything except the greedy “old white men” who had all the money. I was drinking the Kool-Aid too, not gonna lie.
Now I see it for what it is – there are some evil greedy people, but there are so many more who are happy where they’re at. It’s OK to make money. And stupid as that sounds, when you’re down and out for so many years, it’s a survival tactic. Dreaming of money when you can’t see a way to get it is like an itch you’ll never scratch. It sucks, and you get to a point where you hate money because it feels like it’s being kept from you all the time.
But I’m starting to see the light. I’ve done a lot recently, accomplished several goals just to do them, and it’s been enlightening. There’s a whole other side to life I denied myself for so long and for no good reason. And that’s why I’m thankful for strangers this year. Strangers had my back when no one else could. Now, for maybe the first time, I understand why they did it. And I thank you.
Dan Newman is a freelance writer from Wausau with over 15 years in the game. His focus is on the underprivileged and those society tries to forget. In his free time, Dan enjoys writing, making YouTube videos, and singing to his cats.