After his underemployed friend wrote him a despairing e-mail (below), a new friend of mine, Jerry Biederman, started a letter-writing campaign. The campaign has taken on a life of its own, offering hope, comfort, and compassion, not only to Jerry’s Friend, but to countless others feeling overwhelmed, ashamed, and frightened in this economy. I talked with Jerry’s Friend on my Ask Jane radio show. You will be able to listen to our talk on my site, www.AskJaneNow.com soon.
We talked about something very important: that we be very mindful to not mistake what we do (or used to do) for who we are. We are more than our resume and more than our last paycheck. Our credit card debt, our mortgage, our shrinking bank accounts have nothing to do with who we are. Our inherent worthiness is not reflected by the economy unless we make this true. Don’t! Simply don’t participate in this pervasive thinking. It helps no one—not you, not your loved ones, not everyone around you who doesn’t know what to think. Don’t use the economy as a weapon against yourself. Put your shoulders back, hold your head high, ask for help, be generous to yourself and others, and remember to admire your own perseverance, regardless of circumstances.
After speaking together today, Jerry’s Friend has agreed to write another letter and post it, aware that he is obviously being called on for a higher purpose.
If, after reading the letter below, you feel like sharing words of hope or reading Jerry’s Friend’s next letter, visit www.EmailHope.com.
From Jerry Biederman:
I wanted to share an unexpected e-mail I received from a friend.
He’s the father of two adorable little kids.
He’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.
His e-mail had an impact on me. In fact, it has made me lose sleep.
I’d like to take this dark e-mail and see if it can spark some good.
Please tell everyone you know about this. Let’s show my anonymous friend how many people out there care by sending him an email of HOPE.
From Jerry’s Friend
Thank you for checking in with me. To be honest with you, things have not been going so well. In fact, right now it’s worse than ever.
This morning I woke up in such despair that I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. It’s not the first time that I felt depressed about my current financial situation, but it’s the first time I felt desperate. I have always been the type of person who looks for the positive in everything. People always see me smiling, because I’ve always believed that life can improve at any moment. Today was different. My wife said two things to me that made me realize how bad it has become. First, she said, “Try to look happy in front of the kids.” Then, as she was leaving to take the girls to school, she said, “Don’t do anything stupid.” I never thought I was the type of person who would need to be told not to kill myself.
Before today, the economy has caused me to lose clients. Before today, the economy has caused me to lose health insurance. Before today, the economy has caused me to lose sleep. Today, the economy caused me to lose hope. When hope is lost, you are lost. You can live in the worst of conditions if you believe that one day things will get better. But without hope, all you think about is how there is no way out. I need to find hope again, but for the first time in my life, I can’t.
The worst part is the feeling of shame. I know I didn’t do anything wrong and don’t deserve to feel this way. I work hard. Through all the struggle, I haven’t given up. I’m a good citizen. I’m a good person, a good father, a good husband. But I can’t help from feeling ashamed that I cannot simply provide for my family anymore. All I can do is keep apologizing to my wife. She keeps telling me there is nothing to be sorry about, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is my fault. She reminds me that a few months ago all the employees at her work had their wages cut. That cost us more than two hundred dollars a month. I still feel like it is all on me, like I am letting the entire family down.
The few hours that I let myself sleep every night, so I can work again in the morning, are the worst. All I can do is lay there in bed thinking about money. When I finally fall asleep, I have nightmares. If something wakes me up, I will be up for good – worrying. I lay there in bed with my heart pounding out of control knowing that this is a nightmare I can’t wake from. When you are in this type of situation, the last place you want to be is alone with the thoughts you can’t escape.
I have become so fragile. How did I turn into this kind of man? Every time the phone rings, I have a minor panic attack. I look at the caller ID and it’s another 800 number. Could be the bank. Could be about my car payment. Could be a credit card company. I’m scared to drive, because we couldn’t afford to pay for new tags. I can’t hear the phone ring or look at my kids without feeling like a failure.
All we can do at this point is to try to keep the kids unaware of what is going on. They think we have been too busy to go to the market. My four-year-old keeps asking for milk and I tell her we still need to find time to go to the market. She has no idea that we are waiting for the next check to come in. I try to keep it fun for them. I joked with them yesterday that if they behave themselves we can go watch other kids eat ice cream. They laughed, but the sad part is that it’s true.
Every time one of the teachers at the elementary school has a birthday, my wife brings a cake and all the teachers and kids celebrate. This last time, I had to tell one of the teachers that we couldn’t afford to get the cake. How humiliating to have to admit that. She went to her purse and gave me some cash so my wife could still get the cake. Even though we told everyone that the teacher paid for it, taking that money felt like charity. I’m used to being the one who gives money to needy people. Being handed money like that hit me hard.
America is supposed to be a place where if you work hard you will move ahead. I work hard. I work during the day and through the night. My wife works hard too. We are good people. We help people. We treat everyone with respect. We are dedicated parents. Why is it that a good person who works hard has such a difficult time to make ends meet? Something is wrong. I don’t want charity. I want a chance!
I feel so alone, but I know I’m not. I read in the paper that when Circuit City closes, 35,000 people will be out of work. How do we even begin to imagine what 35,000 terrified people look like? It’s hard to take it all in even if we try. And that’s just the tip of this financial crisis iceberg.
Everyone I know is having trouble, even those who have always been well off. We can no longer depend on the people in our lives who were our safety nets in the past when times were tough. They too have holes in their pockets. I feel like I’m on a sinking ship and I am scared to death, but everywhere I look I just see more scared people looking back at me. These days, it doesn’t matter if you are traveling in first class or economy – if you are on the Titanic, you are scared and sinking like everyone else.
I wish I could die … but live to tell about it. My girls and my wife are my reason to live. I just wish we could have a mulligan – a do over.
A friend forwarded an email to me the other day. It had only one line: “Due to the economic crisis, we must turn off the light at the end of the tunnel.”
So what do I do now? When working hard is no longer working, what do you have left? When you’ve reached the end of your rope, what else is there? For the first time in my life I have run out of money and time.
I need to find hope, but right now it is nowhere.
Sorry for unloading all this on you. I guess I just needed to get it out. Thanks for listening. If you know of a miracle, a reason to have hope, I’m still here.
Don’t worry, I won’t do anything stupid today. I won’t let go of the end of my rope. The problem is, whether I hold on or not, this financial crisis is shoving me off. No one understands this. The phone is ringing. Gotta go.
To read messages from others who are offering hope and to offer your own pearls of wisdom or inspiring story, go to www.EmailHope.com.
Be Yourself. Everyone Else Is Taken!
– Charles Schultz
Another wonderful friend, Gary Fiset, sent me the following, by Charles Schultz, the Peanuts comic stripcreator. This is a powerful reminder for any of us, who, like Jerry’s Friend, have forgotten our true value.
You don’t have to actually answer the questions. Just read straight through and you’ll get the point.
1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.
4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress
6. Name the last decade’s worth of World Series winners.
How did you do? The point is none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
Here’s another quiz. See how you do on this one:
1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special!!
5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They simply are the ones who care the most.