Hang in there

There is one good, middle aged man in my neighborhood who was born with a certain degree of disability due to which he has numerous health problems. I didn’t even know he existed, nor that he lived just several hundred meters away from me, because only in the block of adjacent buildings where I stay there are more or less 1,000 souls, not to mention that this whole area of the town with these same buildings consists of 13-14 such identical blocks. In reality, we are one entire little town by itself, condensed in not that much vast land area, there are so many people living literally ones on the top of others packed in apartments with mostly insufficient number of square meters yet you rarely know the person living next door, not to mention somebody from a different floor or in a different building within the same block. It wasn’t like that in the past, not even in that not very distant past when we moved in here a bit more than 30 years ago. People cared more about other people and life wasn’t so much about material possession and personal vanity as it is now, I sincerely and dearly miss that country called Yugoslavia I was born in. If I were still living in Yugoslavia (and I’m not, even though I haven’t moved an inch away in these last nearly 4 decades), the man from the beginning of this story would be in much better shape today. He would have completely free health care, some personal income due to his very legitimate disability issues, access to daily meals for people with income problems. He would have some dignity in this life and more people on the block would know he existed and offered some help, because social services would work on his integration in the community.

In his twenties, he used to live in Yugoslavia as well, and his father’s company helped him the best they could by letting him work in the company’s kitchen for their workers. He carried things around and peeled some vegetables, he had some little income and full insurance – those were the best days in his little unfortunate life, days before the world slowly but definitely started tumbling down on him.
Yugoslavia got torn up in pieces, swallowed by its own inhabitants who turned against each others, failing to understand that the consequences of these actions would harm only themselves and no one else. His dad’s company first suffered the beginning of a bad economical crisis. Then his dad passed away, failing to buy off their living space from the state in the midst of that crazy stellar inflation, as we all did and thus literally saved ourselves. His dad’s company eventually had to be restructured in the process of privatization, obligatory in the transition towards capitalism, but nothing prevented bankruptcy from happening. He lost his little job and remained with his mom who inherited his dad’s retirement money, as she didn’t have any income of her own. Life went on while his mom could take care of their lives in every possible sense, but in the end she passed away too several years ago. And this is when life stopped. He remained completely alone, lost, in Serbia now, with no means to live this life and expired ID, hidden among us with no electricity, with unpaid bills and no food for days in a row. He can do some things, but he needs to be told exactly what to do and he has to be partially supervised, which makes it almost impossible for him to find some kind of stable work position in this country. I found about him for the first time when an old lady involved in an organization for saving stray dogs moved in with him to help him out in exchange for the accommodation for her and the dogs she took care of. Things got better for a while, bills got payed again, there was some food on the table every day… but the lady’s age is such that she progressively needed more and more help for herself, and somewhere by the time my dad declined she left the man’s place as it seems for good. Dogs were took over by the organization, the lady was accepted by some relatives and he is alone again, growing older himself and becoming more and more helpless as time goes by. My mom helps him with food as always in these last years as much as she can, but life has hanged for us as well. I remember that in the middle of my worst panic ridden despair when I didn’t go anywhere, I secretly and deeply feared that I would end up like him and it scared me to death. Those fears returned all right with income problems and the shock my dad’s passing away caused in my little life.

I saw him today. I turned round the corner as he was emptying some huge bag of high class garbage into a container, obviously a chore he was asked to do for someone in exchange for an equivalent of a dollar or two, or a sandwich for that day. It was a sad contrast to see him, a man in a clearly very neglected state and torn clothes, throwing away very expensive waste items. My heart sank as I said hello to him, he wouldn’t notice me otherwise as his vision deteriorates heavily as well. He knows about my dad from my mom, so he asked how we were doing. We were standing in front of that container, the sky was heavy and black as the depths of my soul, and this person who’s lived genuine hardships asked me if I was coping, when the right question would be if and how he is coping. I said I was managing, somehow. He looked firmly at me and smiled, saying: “Hey, hang in there. You have to. Got it? HANG IN THERE.” Then he waved goodbye and wandered away as I stood in disbelief. Honestly speaking, what does he have to hope for in this world? He is doomed to soon lose even the bed he’s sleeping in when bills accumulate again, this time to the point of no return. He would have all the right to totally give up. This person who has sometimes hard time getting simple things wanted to make sure I got it that I had to hang in there. Ashamed, sad, amazed, humbled, shaken… that’s how I felt returning to my realistically really modest home, I have no idea how it feels to be wealthy or even just well off. I looked around me and thought… what would he give to exchange places with me and have my life, with all its hardships? Probably everything. It would be for him as if somebody had taken stars of the sky and spread them in front of his feet. Or it would equal touching that distant sky above us. He would be extremely happy. And I’m so miserable.

How is it possible for people to differ so much in the same circumstances? No matter what, if somebody like him tells you to hang in there, then you really have to do it. Such messages can’t be ignored.

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6 thoughts on “Hang in there

    1. Absolutely right… unfortunately we all tend to “compare” ourselves only with those better off than us and thus we usually suffer, not even thinking firstly what hides behind that better off facade, and secondly, we tend not to think about how everything in life is transient and that what once used to be better can very soon become worse. In all that mad chase for some “better” life, we rarely think / see how actually fortunate we are in comparison to many, many people on this planet. And this was a true reminder not to take what we were given in life for granted or dismiss it as something without value.

    1. I will try to remember them the best I can, too… and as long as I see him around managing, I really won’t have any right to give up no matter how hard things may become. Take care dear Judy, all the best!

  1. dear tamellu: i read your posting about your dad linked to jamie lee’s musing over money. just like you i lost the loves of my life: my mom, dad, dear sister and some 5 years ago my friend, playmate and brother Cornelio. we grew up together and he was always ahppy until cancer got him and took him away. when mom died, i refused to go to church or pray for more than 5 years, angry and sad. but as i looked at my brother dying of cancer it dawned on me that for us who are around our dearly beloved: there is no stopping to being happy, and keep on loving everyday of our lives. thanks that I found your blog and will click the “follow” so that way, i can also take some readings and be inspired. keep on writing.

    1. Hello there,

      Thank you very much for your comment, please excuse me for all this delay in replying, but I got so sick with flu / throat infection that I was partially convinced that I was on the right road to meet dad sooner than expected, this is the first day that I’m feeling somewhat better. I’m indeed very sorry for your losses, it’s so hard to lose the closest and dearest people in your life, I don’t think it’s something one can ever truly get accustomed to, it’s just that time that passes brings new things along and teaches you a bit how to deal with the pain. It’s quite a roller coaster though, at times it seems that you’re coping better, then an image, phrase, a sound reminds you of all the pain you carry inside and world tumbles down again. Then you get up and you fall again, some days are simply horrible no matter what you do… but I guess it’s like that even with much more insignificant things in life as well, the battle never ends till we’re still alive. Losing somebody who died of cancer is extremely hard, the only thing I can pray for is that people with medical knowledge will bring the forces better together to find better cures, because what we have today at our disposal is not enough by any means. I totally get you when you talk about how you lost faith, it seemed to me as well before that if I prayed hard enough and did good things that things would stay ok, that nobody would suffer. Now I have that firsthand painful realization that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I fight, I’ll never be able to stop a bad outcome from happening some day. It’s not foolishness, but when you lived with somebody for almost 4 decades in the same house day in day out, it somehow seems that that person will be there forever. The time that was passing and the fact that my dad was almost never truly ill before created that illusion which made the blow even harder. I don’t know on what terms I’m with God right now, it’s not anger, but there is a lot of sadness. Still I have to admit that even if this didn’t happen now, it had to happen some day as it happens for everybody, yet people somehow still regain faith and continue to pray for those who are still here. It feels illogical when you think that we’ll all go away eventually, but it’s how it is, it’s not logic but simply faith. I’m glad that you went on in happiness and with love for your life, it takes more or less time for things to fall in place for all of us, for our minds to accept the emptiness that is there after somebody left us, and we’re all different. No matter what we do, that person / persons that passed away can’t come back here, and if we’re still here, we have to live without falling apart because that is the only life that makes some sense. I’ll go on with writing, I had different things on my mind that I wanted to express but as always, this has been a year of really bad luck for me, quite a horrible lesson in endurance. I’ll try to get up one more time and be around here as often as I would truly like to. Take good care of yourself and go on by all means, we’ll make it somehow.
      All the best, Tanja

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