On Poverty and Dignified Exits

The Working Poor

"I don't understand the point of living in a capitalist society if the people aren't happy. And you know, I'm old I remember a time when you didn't have to work all of the time to make ends meet, just to pay the rent and get by..."

I did not remember a time when things were not exactly as they are now, although I wish I did.

Generally, I attempt to avoid extensive conversation with any customers, and yet he was touching on something very personal to me, and something that can be heard rather often if we choose to listen.

Fluorescent lights were beaming from his bald head. He is lanky with thin, nearly translucent, skin and white eyebrows which rise and fall with each word. He is a soft spoken man. He visits nearly daily on break from long shifts at a grocery store across the street from our store.

He nearly always orders the same thing and nearly always reads the same motor vehicle magazine.

And he is kind. The type of kind that is derived only from years of weathering; years of the humbling kind of experience I generally (and not always only) find attributed to the working poor. I cannot tell exactly how old he is, but he is old enough to invoke pity for having financial insecurity, for still having to pull double shifts at a grocery store. And he is certainly educated as our conversation turns to Europe, their two hour lunch siesta's and the idea that one should be able to live freely, happily, comfortably; and that perhaps this is the point of our existence.

I smile as we exchange 'take it easy's.' I suddenly feel an anxious welling in my stomach as I turn away.

I cannot help but picture his nights toiling between financial insecurity and the question of existence. I find myself pondering over what is to come at the end, attempting to wrap my consciousness around what exactly happens when we no longer exist, now, in my mid twenties. I imagine the more birthdays that come and pass, I will become even more so painfully aware of time.

It becomes a vile question when coupled with something as trivial as money.  It is something that invokes terror while sinking to our belly's in our darkest most vulnerable moments, as we lay our heads against our pillows to sleep. It is a degrading fear that one can find no clarity for, no comfort from and a question we inevitably will all face, violently as we may attempt to shake it.

If we must (in this society) work our youth's away, I believe we should be allotted our closing wise years to spend however we wish and without the burden of money troubles. At the very least, that is.

I once found myself even angry over the idea we must work our energetic and adventurous years away to only be given a small chunk at the end in which we would be too exhausted, too aged to fulfill our prior youthful dreams. And now I find myself squeamish at the thought of my own future, of my own last chunk. Are most of us fated to work until our last breath?

There is an ever present concern for social security today, there is an ever present wealth gap that becomes wider and wider each year. And nearly all of us fall on the unstable side of the gap. 20 percent of Americans make just little enough to qualify for food stamps ('Gaza In Crisis' Ilan Pape and Noam Chomsky from "Interview with Noam Chomsky"). That is roughly 65,353,349 people with insecure presents and even shakier futures.

I do not believe there is anyone, anywhere that perhaps has a better grasp on what it is we should do with our precious existences. And I cannot offer a solution to the many issues we are bitterly faced with in the age of avoidance, of social media, of pollution and of financial inequality, I wish only to draw attention to and to open a stream of thought.

I believe the question of our existence is a struggle we will all face. I believe we deserve a humane and dignified final chapter, regardless of our class. One in which we are free to pursue life's wondrous qualities, enjoy the relationships we have crafted over many years and to be allowed to leave this world in peace and without stress.

I believe the fear that this man may not, and the rest of us scraping by paycheck to paycheck may not, may keep me awake tonight.