Pin It What is the measure of a man? Of a woman, for that matter?
I had an opportunity recently to ponder these questions when my daughter had a sleepover with a friend she doesn't get to spend a lot of time with a few nights ago. In the course of picking her up in the morning and exchanging the usual idle chitchat, I became aware of some changes in her friend's family's circumstances.
Her mother announced, a sad twist to her lips, that they would probably be putting their house on the market in the next few months. "You know. Just to pay the bills." She was trying to make light of the situation, but it's not easy to cover something as heavy as financial stress with humor. I was startled--we'd been in a different school system last year, had been somewhat on the fringes of things, and I genuinely had no idea that they were suffering any reversals.
She explained readily enough. Over the last year or so, this family had--like many others--taken a beating by the economic downturn. Dad's job in the mortgage industry went to pot, and he was subsequently forced to take other less lucrative positions to support his family.
I left feeling slightly stunned. The financial bottom had fallen out of their world.
This couple had taken up the gauntlet thrown at them by circumstance unflinchingly, though, and had done what needed to be done. Mom had increased her hours in her own job as she was allowed. Dad was managing a local pizza joint--a step down that would be unthinkable for many that had previously held a position such as his, but one he made with good humor and the knowledge that not only was he providing in the material sense, but also in the sense of setting an example for his children. And now they were ready to sell their home to make things easier--to do, simply, whatever it took.
The bottom might have fallen out, but they were rebuilding it, one little block at a time. That, to me, spoke volumes about the measure of this man and this woman--this team. I don't think you ever truly see the measure of a person, or a team, until they hit rock bottom, and have to pick themselves up. Sometimes they lay there for a while, sluggish and disoriented, before they stagger to their feet and begin to climb. Sometimes they leap up like a runner sliding into home, carrying a trail of dust behind them. Sometimes they never rise, and thus never prove themselves.
I thought about this family a lot over the course of the last week. It was actually a very interesting week--one where tradition was upset by family illness and I ended up in a cabin in the Smokies, hoping to get all of my Christmas shopping done. Instead of a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal we ate at Cracker Barrel (gag--sorry, but their sweet potato casserole just does not measure up), and goofed off at MagiQuest and mini-golf and the movies. And then I waited until midnight, when the outlet center would open, waited for the mad rush and the jockeying for position amidst the lines and parking spaces and the shoulder to shoulder crowds.
I just couldn't do it, though. This family, and a couple of others that I'm involved with helping out for Christmas, just kept coming to mind, and I actually felt kind of guilty that I had money to spend, and the spirit to do it. The parking lot, which was full of people camping out at nine p.m., sort of bugged me. When midnight arrived, I sat down at my computer in my pjs, and did some half-hearted online special hunting for a while, then went to bed.
When I rose the next morning, I was clear-eyed. I had my list of needs for the two families I was helping with--seven children all together, four boys and three girls. It was okay that I had some money to part with...after all--here were some kids who had some needs. It was time to shop.