This morning, I woke up broke. I wasn’t necessarily physically or mentally disabled. That’s not the kind of broke I’m referring to. This is the kind of broke where you wake up, rollover still in bed, pick your iPhone off the nightstand before your feet even touch the ground, and scroll through emails that came in over the last eight hours. It was more of a “discovery” that I was financially broke as my bank cordially sent me an alert with the words “ACCOUNT OVERDRAWN” shouting in caps from the subject line. The gray thunder clouds moved overhead as I pushed them aside to regain clarity of mind, attempting to silence my panic. “What to do?! What to do?!” The question raced through my head.
Thanks to mobile banking, I was able to pinpoint the problem. No, it wasn’t identity fraud, which while truly a hassle, would relieve me of responsibility. It was pure user error. My son’s summer camp payment hit the wrong account. I thought I had directed this not so small lump of money to be added to my growing credit card balance. Nope, it went straight into my checking account sending me into negative balance land. Electronic payments for my insurance, auto, and telephone bills were hitting my negative bank account and overdraft fees were piling on top of each other. Depression, desperation, and disaster greeted me at the start of my day. It set the tone for what was to follow as I carried them with me to daycare drop off, school teacher appreciation lunch, and through various work meetings. My load felt heavy, too heavy.
In the midst of my own agony, and maybe as a way to soothe my pain, I wondered about other people. How many other people go through this? How many people wake up to these courtesy low balance alerts from their bank? How many people live paycheck to paycheck with barely enough money in their bank account to cover basic living expenses? How many people live in a chronic state of “What to do?! What to do?!”? How do they carry this load?
As a first generation Filipino, my father moved to the U.S. to pursue the American Dream. He came to this country with more hope than money in his pockets. He believed that if he worked hard, he could create a life for his family. I believed that too and then I grew up. The system is not set up to help the individual. The system is set up to support the system. As individuals, we are asked to work before we are paid, but pay for services, many times, before they are rendered. Health care expenses and unexpected fees combined with longer work days and professional demands to produce more with less are draining us of precious resources.
What role can we play to help others lighten their load? Wealth should be redefined. Intelligence repositioned. For right now, I will listen to music and take a little bit of time. Tomorrow will be another day. I hope a better day.
Tahra Millan is an educator, speaker, and not for profit administrator committed to mentorship and arts advocacy. She works with organizations and young professionals to help them find meaning and purpose with the hopes of leaving this world a better place than when we arrived. Tahra lives in Carmel, New York with her husband and two kids.
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