The Great Leveling

I have been unemployed and it sucks.
I have been broke and it sucks.
I have had zero prospects and it sucks.
I have had no money in my bank and it sucks.
I have not known where my next meal will come from and it sucks.

It lasted what felt like an eternity for me but it was probably no longer than 3 months. I remember spending my last $7 on food and thinking “that’s it, nothing left.” I remember having to call my mortgage company to ask for a deferral and not be able to afford the $75 change fee. There are many things that test you but nothing more than not being able to make a living to support your family.

I pulled out of this but many can’t. I pulled out because I had family and friends that helped. Many don’t. If there is one thing that I learned during this time it was to understand how close I was to financial ruin. Most of us have weeks, some of us have days. This reality is playing out today as COVID-19 is destroying the little bits of equity we’ve built in our lives in a matter of weeks. And it sucks.

Canada saw 1,000,000 newly unemployed workers in March due to the mass closures to stem the spread of the virus. A hard reality is that many of those businesses that shut down in early March may not have the financial ability to re-open once the country starts leaving their homes. April will be no better when it comes to unemployment and burden it will have on our system will be tremendous but necessary. How does a country keep its economy running without the engine that feeds it?

Lost in the shuffle here are those that were already in that position before all of this descended upon us. Those Canadians that were already living in subsidized housing, relied on the government or food banks to have access to food and whose job prospects were bleak to begin with. They have been voices that have been trying to break through but just weren’t being heard and now, with the masses out of work and screaming, their voices are being suppressed even more.

This economic shutdown is giving many Canadians a glimpse into the world that hundreds of thousands of the population live all the time. Housing and food insecurities abound but as we all go through our days, go ignored except by the small but mighty organizations that fight on the front lines on their behalf. Or we learn to ignore them. This time it’s hard to hide from it when the entire population will feel its impact. We will feel what it’s like to lose our jobs and to not have prospects. We will feel what it’s like to not be able to afford food or transportation. We’ve been forced to self-isolate to stem the spread but that is what it’s like for many today who have no money for social outings. Many of us will feel the sting of self doubt that creeps in when we feel useless or not in control of our lives anymore. This feeling compounds the longer you find yourself in this position. Sometimes it is completely debilitating and you get lost in it. This is that time we see how no Canadian should ever have to live yet, somehow, in our developed nation, people do. In every city food banks and community housing are a normal things. Accepted as part of society’s approach to solving a problem that shouldn’t exist in the land of opportunity and the free.

Maybe this will give us all the perspective we needed. Most of us balance our lives so close to the edge of financial success and failure that a couple of weeks of earn makes all the difference. Lose the earn and the impact could be catastrophic. My motivation was always that any decision that I made could have me living in my house or a cardboard box on the street corner. That has kept me motivated and miserly since I was a kid because I still feel I’m a moment away from this happening and now I have a wife and 2 children that rely on me to make it work.

Maybe this global shutdown will give us perspective and more empathy for those that have been challenged to find healthy and meaningful work and must rely on social assistance to live. Instead of ignoring their stead in life, I hope knowing that it only takes a few weeks to have millions of people fall into similar situations will give us a greater perspective. Even perhaps a deeper level of empathy and commitment to keep fighting these challenges long after the CoronaVirus has been abated.

Perhaps the impact of stopping the economy will show us the importance of making sure all of us are taken care of, supported and given an opportunity to move up and on with our lives. The loudest voices here may be the newly unemployed and their needs are real but let’s not forget those that were there before that have been asking for this kind of treatment for years. Our goal should be to live in a country that has closed all community housing and food banks because we don’t need them anymore. And to let every Canadian work, earn and live with dignity and self-confidence.

As for me, I’m still scouting street corners for my box mansion for 4. Motivation is motivation and that’s mine.