A tribute to the 99ers: We are not invisible.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The power of community.

I was working as a Funeral Director until September, 2008. Since then, I am occasionally asked to assist at a funeral. Such was the case this past Wednesday, January 19. My friend Karen's father had died. I had served Karen when her mother died and all involved thought I would be a comfort to her at her father's funeral.

If you haven't experienced winter in the Midwest, it's cold. Not Miami down in the 50's cold but cover all your skin or lose it cold. The two weeks prior to the funeral the temperature had exceeded freezing twice. The ground was frozen making burial without machinery difficult.

It is a Jewish tradition (though not exclusively Jewish) to not delegate the burial of a loved one to strangers. Instead, those attending the funeral share the responsibility of filling the grave; each person shovels earth to the extent of their own ability. Filling a grave is considered an ultimate act of kindness and a communal responsibility. The deceased cannot fill the grave themselves and the deceased cannot repay the kindness of those filling the grave.

Karen asked me to remind the cemetery crew their services would not be necessary to close the grave. "Karen the ground is frozen. There is one shovelful of earth. It weighs 2000 pounds", I said.  "Barry, my friends buried my mother, they'll do the same for my father.  It's what we believe in."  I chose not to remind Karen that her mother's funeral had been in early summer.  I asked the cemetery crew to stand out of sight but to be available if needed.

There were about 20 people present at the funeral. Once the Rabbi finished the eulogy and prescribed prayers the burial began. I was right about the frozen mound of dirt. Karen was right about her friends. Everyone took turns shoveling to their ability. When necessary, some took charge of loosening the frozen dirt with a pick or shovel. After approximately a 1/2 hour, despite the cold air and frozen earth, with everyone taking turns in rotation, the grave was filled. Acting together with purpose the community had fulfilled their role. I had planned on using this example as an introduction to the strength and depth of the 99er community. Unfortunately another more pertinent example surfaced.

The same day as the funeral an article in the Hartford Examiner about 99ers in peril referenced a post on Rant Rave. 99ers are at an increased risk of suicide. 

The next night I was glancing at my Twitter history during the late news and was referred to a comment on YouTube:

I have no choice but to give up. My rent is due tomorrow (21st) and I have 18 bucks and change in my pocket. Tonight will be last time I'd sleeping on a bed in a warm room, I dont think I will last on the streets, conceivably, tomorrow will be last time I wake up.
I am not religious man, but, may God helps whom still hanging on the hope one day their life will be back to “normal”. I thank God that I don’t have anyone counting on me for their survival.
May God bless you all.
As you follow the thread you see the immediate response from the 99er community.  Offers of ideas, support and even a call to local law enforcement to prevent a potential suicide. The Denver Post summarized the actions the next day, Friday.
99ers are not alone. There are many experiencing the same feelings, thoughts and challenges. Don't go through this hell by yourself. Give back to the community when you can.  Offer support. Participate in advocacy opportunities to the extent of your ability. Join the Jobs Party. Take a minute to get your resume to Rep. Jackson.  Be ready to support Rep. Lee as she introduces the 112th Congress version of HR 6556. Do what you can to advance the idea of jobs and safety net. Help those that are unable to help themselves. It's the responsibility of community. It's the power of community.

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