Monday, January 26, 2009

Meditating on a Neighbor's Mail

On my block there lives a woman whose name and address, if you didn't look very close, somewhat resembles mine. Twice in the last couple of weeks I have gotten her mail.

The first time I didn't realize it wasn't mine. I did what I normally do - take the mail inside and in my kitchen quickly open everything and sort it out. Bills go in the briefcase to be taken care of on a lunch hour, newsletters and items to be read are put next to where I eat breakfast for my morning reading, junk mail and circulars go straight into the recycle bin. I like to organize my mail the minute it comes in so nothing important gets lost and junk doesn't pile up on my counter, (as has been known to happen in the past.) The piece of mail of hers that I opened was a utility bill. I use the same company, so I didn't think twice when I saw it in my stack of bills.

Opening it was something else though. In fact, what I saw almost gave me a heart attack....

The utility bill was overdue. Severely overdue. The amount owed was twice what I normally pay and in big red letters was the shut off date.

It took me several long, heart pounding seconds to figure out that this was not some bill I had missed - that in fact, it belonged to someone else. I felt an enormous rush of relief; then I was overcome by a mix guilt and sadness. I felt guilty that I had seen this piece of mail. It wasn't just an ordinary utility statement such as everyone gets - it was a declaration that my neighbor was in trouble.

And that is why I also felt sad. I don't know this woman, though I have met her. She came to one of the garage sales my best gal friends and I threw. That's how I know where she lives and that she is a single mom with two little kids. I see them playing out in the yard in the summer. Obviously, I don't know her financial situation, but I felt really bad for her. I can't imagine what it must be like trying to make ends meet on your own with two small children to support.

Today I got another piece of mail for her. This time I noticed that it was hers. It was from a bank I didn't recognize, and the odd return address made me notice that it wasn't for me. I recognized the kind of mail though. As I walked it over to her house to slip it in her mailbox, I glanced at it. It was a slim envelope, the kind that looks like it is going to contain a check, but you can tell by the way the address is printed that it doesn't. Back in the days before I was using online banking and bill pay I used to get those exact same envelopes when I had an overdraft. I could have been projecting, but I felt a sense of dread as I slipped it into her mailbox.

I hope I am wrong. The bank also sent me mail like that when I made a mistake in my addition on a big atm deposit. I carried the numbers wrong and typed in that the deposit was $50 less than it actually was - they caught it and corrected it in my account. Or maybe it is something else all together... an offer for a life insurance policy or a reminder to reorder checks.

In any case, I wish her the best. It was a definite reminder to me of how far I have come, yet also, how sharp the knife's edge is that I walk. It doesn't look like I am going to hit my goal this month, but I am okay, I have a surplus from last month - and next month looks very good. Seeing those errant pieces of mail though has made me very, very grateful for all that I have.


Photo by: flavijus

11 comments:

Fit Wallet said...

That's really sad. I hope her utility doesn't get shut off--it's a bad time of year for that.

Saver Queen said...

Wow, very sad. It hurts to see someone in trouble, doesn't it? Especially when you know that she has children and probably constantly worried about how she's going to take care of them. It makes me wish sometimes that we lived in a society that was more open and honest, that we could more easily ask and offer help, and take care of one another.

Miss M said...

I understand how you feel, it's an intimate piece of information. You only know a sliver of the story and can't help but wonder the rest. I get tons of mail for the old owner, she still owes me $2000 from a legal dispute. Her mail goes in the trash.

Debtfree2009 said...

Just when I think things are hard my mind always goes to those who are having a harder time than I can even imagine.

Since we got our new puppy we have had extra vet bills and had to put up a new fence. But when assessing the cost I always think back to you having to come up with $900 every month.

Your blog really is an inspiration to many.

Lise said...

Ugh, that's a little awkward.

It's amazing how little we end up knowing about our neighbors. Especially since it's so easy to have the luxuries of life these days (while going deeply into debt), we can't even judge people by their lifestyle anymore.

Catie said...

Oh my gosh, I can just imagine the heart attack you had!

I too remember the days of overdue notices and overdraft fees. They were frequent. Sometimes I feel like I haven't gotten anywhere, but then there are reminders like your blog and I realize how long it has been since I have been in trouble like that.

I will keep a good thought for your neighbor.....

Dawn said...

Fit Wallet - you aren't kidding! It is supposed to get 10 below tonight. The good thing is that she doesn't own the home - she lives in an apartment in an owner occupied home. I have met and talked to him a few times, I am sure he would do something should that problem arise.

Saver Queen - I know. Instead, opening someone else's mail is a federal offense! not that I wouldn't have a good case, but you know what I mean. Financial hardship carries such great shame here - it is just one of those things no one talks about.

Dawn said...

Miss M - Exactly. I know I am only speculating. Maybe she just forgot a bill and has already paid it. Who knows? But I can't help but wonder...

DebtFree - Wow, thank you so much!! I really appreciate your kind words! And you will have to keep track of those puppy expenses for me - I keep having thoughts of getting a dog myself, once things get a little easier.

Lise - You are so right! I mean, based on her car and clothes, I would never guess that she would have financial problems. Then again, that right there might be the whole reason the American economy is what it is - because we finance our way into looking like we all have money we don't.

Dawn said...

Catie - I know what you mean. I used to get them on a regular basis too. I thought I was so together, but then I would forget a bill or underestimate how long it would take for a check to clear... I am so, so glad those days are long gone!

Kari said...

I've sort of been there where your neighbor is.. please email me. I can give you some pointers to help her out without really getting involved or letting her know you know something.

Kristy @ Master Your Card said...

I'm reading this a bit late, but wow! I can't imagine opening up the mail to find that. I would have been devastated for her! Did you speak to her about the open mail, or just slip it into the mailbox? I bet that was an awkward discussion if you did. On the one hand, you want to ask how she's doing, on the other, you don't want to make her feel bad. It's even worse when you know there's nothing you can really do to help. I'll keep her in my prayers, just in case!

By the way, I have to commend you on your handling of the mail. I'm absolutely terrible about it. I pile it up on the desk until it's in my way and then I sort through it. One of these days I'm going to miss something and then I'll really be frustrated. I need a better a system.