Monday, November 29, 2010

Updated: Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

Last week, I was clinging to the edge of a cliff, looking into the abyss. Two years into a fruitless job hunt, my bank account was nearly empty. This story is all too familiar to all too many people, even in the best of economic times, but especially in the current financial malaise. I did not know how I would pay my rent, let alone eat, after December 1. I felt like a man who had been sentenced to hang at dawn, and the horizon was growing lighter by the moment. UPDATE, December 20: Things are still very, very tight. Once again, I am on the edge of the cliff. No job, no money. Please pray for me, friends. While I am certainly not out of the woods yet, I was given a very brief reprieve. The generosity of friends, most of whom I have never met or will ever meet, has given me a second lease on life. After much praying, worrying and more praying, I felt I had no choice but to make a plea for help. My heartfelt thanks go out to those who, in the past several days, have stepped forward to so generously help me in my hour of need. Whatever I write here, in the way of thanks, simply cannot be adequate, for words cannot adequately convey my gratitude. I would like to share the story of what happened. Several months ago, a business owner in the western suburbs of Chicago hired me as an independent contractor to do some work for him related to improving his websites’ visibility and also to write some video scripts. The verbal agreement was that he would pay me $3,000 as a retainer, which he paid, plus $2,000 per month thereafter for the project. During this time, I took a new apartment. I provided him with outlines and plans for a social media strategy, as well as several 30-second video scripts. His response was positive and enthusiastic, but he mysteriously stopped communicating with me. My email, phone calls and Facebook messages were ignored. He never paid me anything after the retainer and did not respond to my invoice. That’s why I was suddenly left high and dry. I made my first plea for financial aid via Facebook on November 23 and was amazed that several Facebook friends made donations totaling over $200.00 over the next several days. Facebook being what it is, however, my posting was quickly buried under hundreds of others and essentially forgotten. Grateful for the help I had already received from generous friends, I nevertheless realized that it was not enough to meet my urgent need for sufficient funds for rent, food and CTA fare through December. On Nov. 27, I decided I had nothing to lose by making the same plea on my own blog, Chicago News Bench. As an afterthought, I shared the link to that blog post with a friend in New York, one of the geniuses of parody and satire at (IOTW). I wrote, “Sadly, it has come to this,” and included the link to the post on my blog. Minutes later, BFH wrote back; he said he would cross post it to IOTW. “Thanks,” I wrote back, not really knowing what to expect as a result. It should be pointed out that IOTW has a huge readership nationwide. Every one of their posts receives a large number of comments, and IOTW commenters are among the sharpest, funniest and hip on the Internet. After this past weekend, I now know that they are also the kindest, most generous and sympathetic in the world. IOTW has been gracious enough to link to Chicago News Bench often in the past, and I've frequently enjoyed commenting on their posts, so there was already a feeling of community. Within 30 minutes of the posting on IOTW, more than $200.00 in contributions came to me from IOTW readers. This continued for hours, with more than 30 individual IOTW readers making contributions in amounts ranging from $5.00 to $100.00 each over the next 24 hours. I was blown away. Yesterday, on Nov. 28, another six IOTW readers made contributions totaling over $130.00. The IOTW readers are people I have never met. I probably will never meet any of them. They are people who do not know me, but felt the call to help a fellow IOTW fan and friend. It hit me that IOTW is not merely a satiric, snarky, funny-as-heck website - it is a community in every sense of the word. In another time and place, I’m convinced that those IOTW readers would have come over to help me rebuild my barn after a storm blew it over. The same, of course, must be said about those of my Facebook friends who stepped up. Special thanks to friends on Facebook and to the readers and operators of iOwnTheWorld. May God bless each and every one of them. All in all, enough was raised within five days that I can pay the rent, eat and get a train and bus pass for December, all of which makes it possible for me to continue my job search. I’m not out of the woods yet, but this has given me hope and sustenance. The experience of the past two months of financial stress and the generosity of good people has been life changing. More on that soon, but let me end by urging each of you to put a dollar into that homeless person’s cup when you pass him or her on the street. If you have a friend, relative or neighbor who is in financial distress, please do what you can for them. If you yourself are in need of help, do not be afraid to ask for it - you might be surprised by how generous others can be when asked. “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be." - Deuteronomy 15:7-8