Sunday, July 1, 2012

Good Fortune: What's the Price of Admission?

This weekend, the mid-Atlantic area was hit with a whopper of a storm. In my previous home, we'd see lights flicker, but that was about it. Only once, after a hurricane last decade, was the power out for an appreciable amount of time.  This time, in our new-to-us (but older than me) abode, the massive trees around the neighborhood took down lines and crushed cars on our street.

We were fortunate: my office had power, so David and I were able to go there. (Thank heavens: I had work to do, the "essential personnel" I am, and finding a building with power was not as easy as it one would think.) The cat stayed in the cool basement. Temperatures were in the triple digits, but between the Kennedy Center (in our workout clothes, how embarrassing, but necessity is a fashion statement), Hard Times (dress code: dressed) and work (dress code: emergency), we were covered. We also could take advantage of local municipalities' "cooling centers" and electrified friends offered their homes.

Yesterday, as we mulled over our options, we knew we were among the fortunate. We had options.

I've had the good fortune of a quality education, employment of my choice and a wonderfully supportive network of family and friends. When mentioning this, more than one person has said emphatically, "It's not luck or fortune. You worked hard. You made this happen. Give yourself credit."

And yet...

I know plenty of people with the same opportunities. I have lived with them, worked with them, befriended them, gone to school and church with them. Some have done better than others, and some have had lives I cannot imagine. When I have mentioned this to friends, more than one has said emphatically, "All it takes is a run of bad luck."

I wonder in which camp I can claim residency.

There is a price of admission to live in either Camp Credit or Camp Luck, and some are more costly than others. I don't call them "sacrifices," but "decisions." Some of the decisions were made for me, but in others I had a modicum of say. I had "power" in some positions, but not in others. I also understand that some elements are out of my control: I didn't choose my sex or race. Also, I am healthy.

Can we say a person who is mentally ill and chooses to live in the woods behind the gas station is choosing that life? What if he had a chance at medication that would stabilize him? What if that medication made him feel dead? What if he didn't have the resources to be treated? What if he fell between the cracks?

The woman with children and an abusive husband: what choices does she have? What if she's been isolated from family and friends, too ashamed to reach out when she can't/won't take anymore and has to save herself and children? What if the shelters are full, she has no transportation, the children are hungry, she wonders if going back (again) isn't the wisest route until she can squirrel away enough resources?

The over-extended family that is upside-down in the mortgage has different choices based on decisions that may have been sound a few years ago. Risk looks different from a seat of opportunity. When payments are escalating, equity is gone, two dimes to rub together are nowhere to be found and investments have vanished, what decisions make sense? What becomes a luxury and what becomes a necessity: climate control (because windows are free), petrol (to get to work), summer camp (summer child care)?

I am grateful for my life and the choices it has afforded me. I haven't always made the best decisions, I'm sure, but I've done the best I can — and I've been lucky. I guess my recipe of luck and action have worked out for me so far.

But we never know. Life turns on a dime, whether we have any in our pockets or not. May we take care of those who need it, and make the best decisions in our power.

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