89: Blessed

89: Blessed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People


Don’t cry when the sun is gone, because the tears won’t let you see the stars.

~Violeta Parra

“They can’t do that—it’s against the law!” cried family and friends at the news of our lost pension.

“Well, they did it,” we told them, “but we’re going to fight.”

“How can they refuse to pay your pension? It was your money, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, part of our paycheck was put into our pension fund every month for thirty years.” My husband shook his head and continued. “We thought it was safe and protected and couldn’t be touched. We were wrong.”

Betrayed. We were completely caught off guard.

Fury, pain, fear. All these emotions raged within us. And we were incredulous when we learned that the company executives gave themselves bonuses that ran into the millions after declaring bankruptcy.

“It’s not fair,” I wailed. I was filled with feelings of revenge. And I cried a lot.

We fought in court and wrote to our senators, congressmen, and the President, outlining our situation and what we deemed to be an unlawful act. The few responses were cursory, at best.

Then the judge hearing our case ruled that the plundering of retirement funds was “for the good of the company.” We were crestfallen.

Depression set in. When he wasn’t at the computer comparing notes with fellow co-workers and composing letters, my husband sat in his chair, unable to do anything other than stare at the television. I was no better. I cancelled social functions and dragged myself to meetings. I couldn’t enjoy reading, TV, or even writing, my all-time standby in times of crisis. Only our children and grandchildren brought pleasure. We alternated between talking about the company’s bankruptcy and the cost to us personally, to not saying anything at all for long stretches of time.

Retirement was going to be nothing like we’d expected. Gone were plans for trips to favorite places and a few unfamiliar exotic ones, our hopes of building our grandchildren’s college funds, and dreams of remodeling, redecorating, and landscaping our home. We struggled to figure out ways to be able to remain in our house.

The fight continued in court as we wrote letters to the editors of major newspapers and magazines, but all to no avail.

One day my husband said, “Enough of this. It’s not going to get any better so let’s see what we can do.”

Our retirement savings were stolen and we were going to have to alter our lifestyle. We went to work making lists, starting by writing down the unnecessary and often expensive things we enjoyed most, such as travel, eating out, and going to the theater. We even discussed the pros and cons of getting rid of one of our cars.

Our lives were disrupted but, gradually, we were able to adjust to a new lifestyle by cutting back—though not completely out—some of our favorite things. Instead of traveling to far-off places, we discovered the many attributes of our hometown community and surrounding areas. We waited for top-rated movies and plays to come to television, and sometimes swapped DVDs with friends, then popped our own corn in the microwave and had theater night at home. We decided not to sell one of our cars, but concentrated on savings gained by combining our errands when we left the house, zeroing in on low-cost items and avoiding gourmet favorites.

We’ve been joined by many others suffering from the drastic downturn of our nation’s economy as well as those whose lives were destroyed by natural disasters. We learned that we’re able to reach out to help those who were hit harder than we, including people right here close to home.

“You know,” I said to my husband one day, “we are blessed.”

“What?” He looked at me as if I was suffering some lapse of sanity. “What are you talking about?”

“We have family and health, shelter and transportation, friends, and our faith in God—all the important things. That’s what I’m talking about.”

He smiled and came over and gave me a hug. “And we have each other. You’re right, we ARE blessed.”

Life isn’t easy. No one ever said it would be. Times are indeed tough right now. But we are tougher and now know that we can withstand anything together.

~Jean Stewart

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