The other day, something happened that shook my world. Or, perhaps, two things shook my world—one in a horrible way and one in an oh-so-amazing way.
I realized, with about a week to go until classes start, that I didn’t have the money for my next semester. I’ve hit the cap on student loans and I have two years left before I have my doctorate. I feel I’ve spent most of my life in school over the past ten years and while at times it has been so stressful all I can do is cry and eat Reese’s Cups, it’s still so worth it. I’ve learned so much, I’ve met so many brilliant and wonderful people, and I love the course work.
Faced with the idea of trying to figure out how to pay for the semester when I’ve recently lost my jobs due to my immigration to Canada, all I could do was cry. My wife, my wonderful wife, kept saying, “We’ll figure something out.” But we’ve drizzled through our savings as I’ve been looking for work and the little money that’s left in there is money we’ve been saving for years to fix an on-going problem with my front teeth. And even that wasn’t enough to cover the fees.
I posted on Facebook that I was so upset about this and not sure what to do. And people offered so much love and support including several private messages offering to send me money. Asking for help, y’all, it’s hard. And when those people offered to send me money, I did what I usually do when people offer help. I said, “It’s all right. I’ll figure something out.”
Why do we do that? A few months ago, a friend of mine was facing losing her health insurance and I rallied the troops and raised the money in a couple of days. And I didn’t think she was a failure or that she should be ashamed for having to ask for help. I didn’t think there was something wrong with her. I didn’t even consider it an imposition. I was glad I could help in a concrete way, that is, involving my community, to help someone who needed it. But when it came to me? Asking for help for me? Ugh.
Then Cindy Rizzo, who is an incredible generous person and also an excellent writer, messaged me and offered to set up a fundraiser. At first, I said no. Then that I would think about it. And I thought about it and thought about it.
And I realized that when I struggle financially, I take that as a sign of failure. Not in others—in myself. Because we live in a world that requires money and because even when we rail against the idea of wealthy people getting more privilege and better treatment than non-wealthy people, we are steeped in that concept every day. Because my wife makes a decent salary that pays for our mortgage and van payment, but my salary was used for utilities, insurance, food, and savings and without that, we’re struggling and it feels awful to feel both broke and guilty for being broke.
Add that to the fact that so many people in the world struggle so much harder than we do and wow. The roller coaster of emotions that comes from the idea of just simply letting people help.
I messaged Cindy back and said yes to the fundraiser. We decided to set the cap at the amount that would pay for this semester and next, figuring by a year from now, when the rest of the tuition is due, I’ll have found work, been able to save the tuition, etc.
And people gave. Some gave huge amounts. Some small. Some people who I know also struggle with money gave bits and pieces. People came out of the woodwork to donate. We ended up making our goal the first night. By the second day, we’d gone over it. After setting aside money for taxes and the fees from the fundraising platform, we made enough to pay for this entire year of school and give us almost half of the first semester of next year. I was overwhelmed. I’m still overwhelmed.
It’s not about the money and it is about the money. Almost 200 people came through for me in a very real way to make sure I can stay in school. And that means so much more than the money. It’s about the feeling of being valued. It’s that people think that I’m worth giving to, that people see the contributions I make even when they aren’t financial.
My heart has exploded again and again over this outpouring of love and succor from my community. And I still get choked up thinking about it. Because it’s more than the money. It’s the fact that no matter how much I undervalue my contributions, other people don’t. Beyond all the practical considerations of being able to pay for school, this monster fundraiser of more money than I have ever had at one time is a love letter. It’s a hearty kick in the pants to the doubts that press me down. It’s respect.
And that, more than anything else, has changed my life.