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Guilt and Resolution

June 30, 2012

It’s a strange position to be in, to have returned to the U.S. six weeks ago and know I am scheduled to leave in one week. All of the things I have been going through re: readjustment, family matters, spending time with friends.

And the guilt. It has kind of crept up on me, so I cannot say it just hit me all at once. I started to really notice it when I was in Chicago, and passing by people who were panhandling. This is something I have always struggled with – while I try to donate money (when I have a salary) to good causes, I wonder about the individuals. Many years ago, I gave a person some money ($10) – not a lot of money, but then, I did not have a lot myself. The person SEEMED sincere, and swore to pay me back.

Of course, the person never paid me back.

After that, I decided to donate money to causes that support people in need, or to buy or give something instead of money. The reactions I got varied – in San Francisco, I saw a woman who was asking for money, and I asked her what she needed. She told me very specific items – I went right into the store she sat in front of, bought them, then came back out and gave them to her. She almost cried.

On the other hand, in Minneapolis, when I drove to work, I would pass a man on a daily basis – always in the same place, always asking for money. I asked him what he wanted and he said “money to buy a sandwich” because he was hungry. I told him I had an apple with me, and his response – “I don’t want an APPLE” told me that perhaps he was not so sincere.

Yet I still feel a sense of guilt when I pass people who are panhandling. Perhaps it is part of the “there but for the grace of G-d” thought – after all, I myself have been through some serious challenges in the past few years. However, I have people with whom I can stay, who are so very generous – from letting me stay and picking up the tab for dinner, transport and the like to buying me a gift to take to Suriname. This includes not only my parents but a number of wonderful friends as well. I am so very grateful to them all for their kindness and generosity.

Yet I still feel guilty. Simply living in America, even though I am, financially, not at the top of my game, so to speak – I am still better off than so many others, and I cannot help but be overwhelmed sometimes. The other day, I was dropped off at a SuperTarget, because I wanted to get a few things. I walked in, found two items, got overwhelmed by things, and walked back out. I was nearly in tears. I had to wonder – will I ever get used to these feelings? Will I be able to go with a friend to an outlet mall and not feel like I am going to lose my mind and have a breakdown when we walk into the Levi’s store?

Will I ever get over the feeling of guilt that I have, that we have it so good here when so many others have it so badly, and it was merely luck of the draw as to when and where we were born?

Will I be able to resolve the feelings I have – trying to do something good for the world and the guilt for the inequity, both in the world and in my own country?

I titled this blog post “Guilt and Resolution”, but the truth is, I don’t know if I will ever find resolution, or whether I WANT to find it. If I find it, will that mean turning my back on my desire to help others? If I find a well-paid position after my assignment in Suriname, and have nice things again, does that mean I am a hypocrite? (Not designer brands and stupid expensive, but nice quality). Will I continue to try to seek out ways to make a difference, and be able to do so even more when I have more financial resources?

I have had an opportunity in the past four or so years to really get a better understanding of what financial struggle is – having to short sell my house, working contract positions, going on interview after interview with no hiring, then living in Ukraine and soon Suriname. Will I lose that perspective, or be able to channel it into meaningful work (that also pays the bills, and oh my, the student loan bill is big)?

As with all of the questions I have posed in my blog, I may never get answers. But I am asking, and to me, if I am asking, then I am, for now anyway, aware and mindful, which is a start.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2012 9:55 pm

    You should know that a majority of the panhandlers, especially in Chicago, are either absolutely insane or actually choose to be on the street. And when I say choose, there are many who actually live quite comfortably and panhandle because they can make $20k (or more) per year under the table tax free. There was a special on this where they followed panhandlers back to their BMWs and their nice suburban homes. Either that, or they are simply irresponsible and wish to have others take care of them. The Bible says that you can give a man a fish and he will eat for the day, teach him to fish, and he will eat for the rest of his life. These people do not want to learn how to fish.

    Life isn’t about guilt, it is about first and foremost taking care of yourself – in all things.If you work hard and end up living comfortably, are you supposed to feel guilty? Perhaps not. Are you supposed to make sure that everyone is fed – when there are plenty having children who are in no way able to afford taking care of those children? Is the world supposed to feel bad because other nations choose to live their lives the way that they live? And who is to judge, anyway, if other people in other cultures choose to live lives that we deem as “simple”, “poor”, or “impoverished”?

    If someone is on the street because of a drug habit – are you supposed to feel guilty? You see that this could go on forever and drive you crazy with the “should I feel guilty” game.

    So word hard and do good in Suriname, and come back to a great job in DC and get yourself taken care of.

    And as far as the student loan – IMHO – cash in some of those 401ks and pay them back and get them off of your back. Why risk financial instability to continue to attempt to defer payment on something that you are responsible for?

  2. Mom permalink
    July 1, 2012 10:03 am

    Rarelibra makes some good points. However, we all experience the world differently. Someone who has the good fortune of job security should not undermine another who has had less fortune or, perhaps, made different choices in life. And, having fortune in finance does not always qualify one to advise the rest of society on how to manage their personal money. We are all on an individual path and cannot judge others for their choices, right or wrong, lest we be also judged.

    Having experienced maternal “guilt” for much of my life, my opinion in that arena is that guilt is not worth the energy. The sacrifices we make for others are rarely known or appreciated. When we do something, whether it is giving money or some other gesture, we do it because it makes us feel good. (Therefore, when giving someone money, consider it a gift and you will not be disappointed if it is not paid back.)

    Your experience in Target is, after all, return “culture shock,” and not at all unusual. Many people are overwhelmed when going into megastores, myself included. You are normal in that regard.

    I agree that you need to take care of yourself first, especially your health. When you make a final decision, your life path will become more clear. Continue to be the wonderful person you are and you will continue to succeed.

    And always know that you are loved.

  3. Ida Isaacs permalink
    July 2, 2012 7:32 am

    You are a good person.

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