Friday, September 19, 2008

Relative Misery

After a particularly exhausting week working at think tanks, I decided to skip the gym, go home and crash. As I entered the Metro still dealing with residual guilt over not having worked out in quite a while but nonetheless inching closer to forgiveness, my musing was interrupted."Do you have any change?"

It was a smiling middle-aged* white woman by the ticket machine. I assumed her homeless, based on her dishevelment and unabashed request. "Sorry, I have no change," I managed to mutter. "That's okay, thanks for talking to me! Nice sweater!" "Thanks it's Polo and I got it discounted at." I caught and squelched that thought just in time.

As I sat waiting for the Shady Grove train, I wondered how many people will be rendered homeless by the current financial meltdown. Statistics indicate that there are more than 14,000 homeless men, women and children in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, part of the 3.5 million people living in America's streets in a given year. How many more will join their ranks? Moreover, how will social service agencies, food pantries, homeless shelters and other nonprofits keep up with growing demand for their services? Government will tighten its budget while foundations and philanthropists will give less as their own endowments and investments shrink. Ordinary citizens will have less to spare as they struggle to meet their own needs.

These are tough times, most likely nothing new to the woman who asked for help. But for many in the United States and worldwide, it will be unfamiliar and unsettling at best
, traumatic and life altering at worst.

My brother called to let me know that a schoolmate of ours has been indicted in the Philippines for being one of the "local dummies of bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers." He forwarded another friend's email which asks "
First in AHS Batch 1981 to go to jail?" AHS stands for Ateneo de Manila High School, a private boy's school we had attended. A place where we were made to believe we were cream of the crop, could do anything we set our minds to, and were chosen to lead. Where we imbibed Jesuit idealism, were taught Marian devotion, and trained to be "men for others."

It makes me wonder who has it worse. The homeless lady or our high school chum? A middle class American family that worries about its mortgage or a wealthy family in a class-bound Asian society that has lost face?

I sympathize with all that are adversely affected by unfettered market greed - I am one of the millions. I empathize with the families and friends of those accused - I know them well.

Related posts
Local Food, Local Hunger
Homeless Asians

Image: The Problem of Anxiety, T. Shortell, 2001.

*The concept of "middle age" was discussed over beer the other night. I was encouraged to learn that someone else in their forties believes that she is middle-aged. After all, if the National Center for Health Statistics has average life expectancy at 77.8, then we make good sense. We think that what most consider middle-aged is really three-quarters-aged.

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