It’s well into the holiday season and they are everywhere. Or so it seems. Some shiver quietly and smile. Others sing and shout wishes of good cheer. Most ring their bells enthusiastically. All have some magic talent for making eye contact.
No matter what, I can never avoid making eye contact. And everyone knows, once eye contact has been made, they have you. There’s no getting around it. Either start rummaging around for change or prepare for the walk of shame to your car.
Sure, you can pretend you don’t see them. You can pretend you are busy searching for your car keys. You can whip out your cell phone and act like you’re so engrossed in the conversation that you don’t notice them. But they know. You can’t fake them out. I think the Salvation Army must have a training program for their volunteers that teaches them stealthy ways of engaging us.
And good for them. I don’t think people realize how many cannot celebrate this holiday with a lovely decorated tree with presents surrounding it and homes stuffed full with relatives counting down the minutes before they can enjoy their Christmas feast. Hopefully seeing those red buckets and hearing those bells ring reminds them.
But whenever my husband and I see those red buckets and hear those bells ring, it just reminds us of how bad things are. He is unemployed and has been for eighteen months now. He worked as a contractor and with the recession, his contract was not renewed. No one is hiring in his field. He has widened his search. The companies that are hiring, the odds are discouraging. Eight to one for every position available. He is still receiving unemployment thanks to the Federal extension. Otherwise his benefits would have ended at twenty-six weeks. We are barely just making it, literally living paycheck to paycheck, always behind.
I am not working. I haven’t worked in over three years. (Realizing this, I am on the verge of a panic attack as I type.) Health reasons combined with agoraphobia make me a poor employee candidate. No pun intended. Sometimes when we make the grocery list or go through bills, I have the brilliant idea to start looking for a job. I used to work. I used to be in management. I have skills and experience and references. I can find something. Maybe a part-time office job or even a clerk at the card store. This is not a time to be picky or prideful. And then I remember. Oh yeah. I can hardly make it out my door. I can’t take the trash out or grab the mail. I even have trouble speaking on the phone. I force myself to get to my doctors appointments and often cannot even make those. Only on rare occasions will I join my husband on an errand, if it is something that I need to pick out myself and if my back is up to it.
So now it’s Christmas and everyone’s about buying gifts. There will be no gifts. There will be no tree. There will be no feast. And when I will see that red bucket and hear that bell ring, those kind, hard working volunteers will look at me and watch me walk away because we need every cent we have.
And I will feel awful. I will feel bad for not donating even a quarter because we need that change for groceries. I will feel like I am a horrible wife for not being able to give my husband a Christmas gift after he’s given me so much. I will feel guilty for being unable to work and not contributing to our expenses. I will feel like a failure as a human being because I certainly am not “doing much good.”