Get Off My Lawn

I can't tell if he's laughing or crying.

The Questions and the Math: A Small Reflection on Poverty

Poverty is a blight, a disease, a cancer, a kind of rust that never sleeps as it erodes dignity and injects anxiety into the host, slowly saturating the soul and taking the body for itself. Poverty is the manifestation of failure, sometimes deserved, sometimes not, but once marked the stain lasts forever. Recovery is slow, and the heart never fully heals.


It’s always the math. That math consumes the mind in feverish, compulsive ways. The math and the questions. How much is left? How many days til payday? Til there’s more? What bill to pay? What can I not pay? How much do I have per day? Can I make it? How many meals can I get from  a pound of hamburger? Count, count, count. Try to calculate the amount of pay and subtract the bills and do it over and over hoping I didn’t forget anything. Hoping the balance will be more. Wait. Did I forget something? Do it again just to be sure.

The stress of being at the mercy of a system that doesn’t care and in which work is survival, not fulfilment, takes a toll. In a “bust” economy I was always one bad day away from no more paydays. I couldn’t speak up and that was killing me. To see an injustice go unmentioned fed those fires called rage and shame. I was trapped. I couldn’t breathe.

My only move was lateral. Same shit, different pile. Having no money means having no choice means having no freedom. That is sad, simple math. You start at zero and go down from there.

So I put my head down and endured the gauntlet and, through sheer force of will, I found a kernel of hope untouched by the rust and hid it away. My secret antidote, so small yet so potent. It’s this tiny morsel of hope that saw me through to better days, allowed me to face another grey day. A day that was the same as all the yesterdays. A day that will be relived tomorrow.

But one day the sun did come and burned away the questions and the math, and killed the infection. Sleep came, I could listen to music, I found funny things funny, and, with a bit of practice, became good at laughing.

I shake my head and wonder how I made it through. I keep a tiny kernel of despair among all my hope and light. I want to remember what it was like so gratitude becomes my new infection. This is my inoculation.

Money doesn’t buy happiness but it can pave the road, smooth out the bumps, and facilitate a way to happiness.

I’ve been broke and I’ve been flush. I don’t question which is better. That is simple math that requires no thought at all.



Categories: Non-Fiction, Personal

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60 replies

  1. Beautiful words John.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So well said. I think many people can relate. I had little money in college, scraped by on my meager waitressing tips in a pizza restaurant, all while my student debt grew. But I knew I’d pay it off someday, and even during my Kraft mac and cheese days, I knew there were others who suffered far worse. That helped me keep things in perspective.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Right on. I love this post. Gawd, having no money is having no power, over the smallest things, but things that stand between humans and their dignity. It’s so liberating to get out of poverty, like crawling through a dark hole and finally being able to walk in the light. Far too many people go their whole lives without ever getting to stand tall in the light.
    I have this journal I call my angry journal, from 2002-2003, and it’s basically me ranting about my shame, ranting about my losses, my pain, and in every single margin and on many pages, there is math. Math for how. Now and again, I’ll pick it up and crack it open, and I don’t know how I made it through. There but for the grace of God, and good people who HELPED me (us.) I hadn’t had low opinions of the poor to begin with, but It Can Happen To You is Compassion’s greatest teacher. We must all help. I cannot forget.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Joey. I’m glad to hear that I got this bit of writing correct. You are so right about poverty and dignity, and crawling through a dark hole. And, sadly, many don’t ever get out but I did and this was due to hard work, yes, but also a bit of luck and some very kind and generous people I’ve had in my life. I have to say this is one of my more significant life lessons.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Superbly written, and your care in crafting these words has not gone unnoticed. You should be writing copy for an advocacy group. Money can never, ever buy that kind of talent.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve been both places. Enough is definitely better.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. A brilliant piece, John. I didn’t realize we were poor growing up, but I am forever grateful for the lessons learned. One constant was that we were never denied our dignity. Constantly told to be proud, hold our head high, polish our well-worn shoes and move forward, believing we were as good as any out there. It seemed to work to bring us to a good place. But always a humble place. We could all be back there, and I’ve never forgotten that. Thanks. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Well written. I know the story and I’ve always been bad at math. I love how you learned to listen to music and find things funny again.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So much truth in these words. Everyday nearly everything requires a decision. A choice. There is never both – its one or the other. Even the “free” thing. If I drive to visit a friend, will I have enough gas until payday? Sometimes you can have neither. Not enough gas until payday even if you don’t visit the friend. The exhaustion that comes from being aware of every damn thing that costs money is exhausting.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Beautiful. My family has been slowly ascending. It’s a very slow process. And only once in a while do I actually notice that I can actually buy that extra fruit/protein at the grocery store. That’s what keeps me going.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Brilliant piece of writing, John.

    You might find this read on what poverty does to the brain interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow! This post touches so many things in me. So strong, so many emotions, so much inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lovely piece, John, and true. —– Suzanne Joshi

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I really liked this post. It is something I would think most people can remember doing, and it is wise to hold onto that tiny kernel just to keep life in perspective. My friend once said someone she met in enlightening classes told her she did not need money, she could live without it. My friend’s response was, how are you going to pay your rent/mortgage, how are you getting gas, food, clothing. To say money can’t buy everything is correct, but you sure can’t live without it.
    I found your site because you are a candidate in E’s government. You GMV.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is a great piece on poverty, John. So very real.You’ve touched on the core of it all: the stress, the counting, no choice, no freedom and it all down from there. I know what it’s like to have no money having grown up with no silver spoons to boast off. Hardworking, hope and a bit of luck play a part. It’s just nice to have enough.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Wow, one of the best things you’ve ever written, and I like everything that you’ve ever written.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Nicely done.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. There’s a line in “The Color Purple” – “I’m broke, but I’m not poor”.
    Love your thoughts here. Every time I get my road smoothed out, I approach a pot hole and things get bumpy again 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hey…what have you been up to?? Why no posts the last couple of months?? I hope all is ok…

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I keep popping over here to make sure you haven’t posted something I’ve missed. Are you OK? I don’t think you have gone this long without posting before. Do you need anything?

    Liked by 2 people

  20. It’s cool that people are checking up on you. I haven’t been around enough to notice when people don’t post these past whatever months. :/ Glad to hear you’re okay via your response to Victo.

    Anyway, my response to this post:Cripes, man. Your posts have such weight to them (in a good way). I need to work harder to smooth out the bumps over here myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I’m joining the “Are you ok?” Club. Or maybe just stopping by to say I hope you are ok!


    • Yes. I am good. I’m going to finally get back to posting this week. My marraige ended (my choice), my work changed, I moved, set up a whole new home, got my license and bought a brand new car.I love this new life but it has taken me a minute to adjust. And how sweet are to ask? Thank you. This means a lot to me. I hope things are well with you.


      Sent from my Samsung Galaxy Tab®4



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