In negative two degree weather, I forced myself to get out of bed at 6:30 to take the recycling to the curb. While I was out there, I grabbed the mail out of the mailbox and noted, with some relief, that there was a check in there from what I liked to call my third job. I opened up the envelope, checked the amount, and resolved to deposit it as soon as possible. My wife, not long after waking up herself, saw the check on the counter and made a special point of looking me in the eye so we could share a moment of small triumph and a whispered, “yes!” By now you’ve probably figured out the amount of the check (and if you haven’t, look at the title) and I wish I could say that we’re poor, wretched people, a tiny sliver of the society pie that gets excited about an income of less than $200. But I know that, at least to folks out here, that’s still a lot of money.
I used to get a hundred dollar bill from my grandma every year when I was a kid, and I was fascinated by it. I didn’t get an allowance like those kids on TV, and any time I found myself in the possession of a few pieces of paper money that wasn’t for buying a birthday or Christmas gift, I can remember how wonderful it felt to feel like I had some kind of worth. We are, after all, a capitalist society here in America, and it’s no big secret that we consider people who happen to have a lot of money to be folks more worthy of attention, respect, and maybe even elected office.
I still get that happy feeling, even when it’s a check that, I suppose, I shouldn’t be that excited about. After all, January is brutal for our family, with a lot of expenses piling up: $300 here, $600 there, $100 for this bill, $50 three different places for three separate bills… it all adds up way too fast at the beginning of the year. But for a few moments on a cold morning, I had “One hundred and eighty dollars” written beneath my name, and I was happier than any billionaire in any golden tower. I’m not going to go off about how I earned it or how much harder I worked than someone else, because we all know most of that’s bunk… but instead, I’m just going to enjoy that I was able to go to Dairy Queen on the last day of their half off special and get my kids some Dilly Bars. Does that mean I have to walk in shoes with holes in them for a little while longer? Yeah, but every time I hear Cindie say “Dilly Bar,” it really doesn’t matter.
This isn’t about me being better than you or you being better than me. I used to get all bent out of shape about that stuff, but there comes a point where it doesn’t matter who you are, what schooling you have, or where you’re from… 99% of us will eventually come to the point where we see us and all of our neighbors doing the same thing I’m doing, rejoicing over every check, and we’ll start to realize that there’s a lot more that unifies us than divides us from the folks that never have to worry about that next paycheck. Whether it’s two hundred or two grand, we all have our bills to pay and we’re all struggling down here in a world where the richest 1% gets 82% of the wealth. And when we find that moment together, that camaraderie, that’s when it all starts working like it should.