I was feeling a little put-upon last night. Annoyed with my kids. Tired from a day solving problems and meeting deadlines. Dreading that look from the dog that means “Yes, I have to go out AGAIN.” And facing a sink full of dirty dishes I didn’t want to wash. So instead of addressing my immediate reality, I decided to browse around Facebook.
Up popped a note from someone in an area I cover for The Big Paper asking if we could chat. He said it was an emergency and before I knew it I was on the phone with a despondent man who was standing outside the home he had recently lost to fire, which had also taken the life of his sister.
The man explained he had already been working his way out of depression after the death of his father, and had tried with no luck to find the homeless brother he hadn’t seen in years. On top of that, he said he had just lost his temporary shelter and monthly allotment of food stamps in a mistaken attempt to sign the benefits over to the mother of his kids, who had lost her job. He said he did that on the advise of a caseworker who is no longer on the case.
As $9.25 an hour, the man hardly earns enough at a part-time job to support himself, never mind a family. Was there anything I could do?
My thoughts raced as I tried to assess if I should keep him on the phone and get help. As reporters, we fall on these stories from time to time where the line can blur between writing about somebody’s situation and getting personally involved. It’s hard to know what to do.
The man assured me he was OK as he stood outside the burned-out home. “My life is in that building,” he said, indicating he’d be sleeping in his car.
Today I’ll call my boss and see if there is a story to be told. I’m not sure it would be more than depicting the tragic collision of circumstance and a broken system. But the conversation forced me to take stock as I sat at my desk mulling it all over. And my own life seemed a hell of a lot brighter after I hung up.