240,000 is a whopping big number. Don’t believe me? Think of it this way — if you stacked 240,000 slices of bologna one on top of another, that stack would be … well … a really, really high stack of bologna.
When I think of numbers that high, I can’t quite comprehend them as quantities. They seem more like some kind of abstract notion. So when I heard that the United States had lost 240,000 jobs last month, I took note, then simply stored that information away with all the other numbers that collectively comprise our gloomy economic picture — numbers we may not quite get, but we are told aren’t good.
But pulling into the parking garage for work that morning, I did have a clear sense of another number — one. As in one person who may have lost a job .
This didn’t take a tremendous stretch of imagination for me. About a dozen or so years ago, I was one of that cohort. I lost my job just a few weeks before Thanksgiving and a few weeks after my youngest was born, and though she is now 12, I can still recall with absolute clarity that deep and abiding sense of panic that overwhelmed both me and my wife for those first few weeks. We had, of course, bills to pay, mouths to feed, obligations to meet. And unlike my income, which stopped abruptly, all of these obligations stretched forward as far as I could comprehend. (I’m STILL feeding those mouths!)
Obviously, we survived. I dug ditches — literally. I ripped up carpet and knocked down walls for a general contractor. I delivered phone books for a temp agency. And, when things were really pretty desperate, I delivered newspapers in the predawn neighborhoods around my house.
In the end, the loss of that job, which I really disliked, opened up all kinds of professional doors for me. I’m told that’s often the case. But that’s a hard-earned insight, and one that isn’t likely to surface when you’re worried about your next meal or mortgage payment.
The bottom line is this: all around you this holiday season, people will be struggling. Maybe you will be, too, though I hope not. But remember that it’s not just the aggregate number that we should be concerned about. That aggregate number is made up of real live people with real live families who, unlike me, aren’t terribly lucky right now. And there are a lot of them. Those of us with a little luck in our pockets should keep an eye out for them, and do whatever we can.