Climbing Ability

Certain people can’t catch a break. For every one step forward, circumstances push them back two. The reasons for this inability to climb to the next level are as many as the stories we tell to explain it.

I’m fearful of heights. Visiting the Grand Canyon, Tim marched near the edge and marveled at the beauty. I don’t know what he said because I never left the side of the car or let go of the handle. Instinctively, I knew that the Grand Canyon was a climb too steep for me.

Our cleaning lady, Donna (not her real name), was one of those people who couldn’t climb out of an economic abyss. She told me the (modest) cleaning business was hers when we first met. The pride she exuded was palpable. She’d hired her best friend, Tara (not her name). The business was growing. “I’m expensive,” she said with timid pride—if there is such a thing. Then she quickly added, “But I think you will find I’m worth it.” Her words were appropriate for a young woman entrepreneur. Two friends, Becky and Deborah (their real names, although I’ve never actually seen their birth certificates), hired Donna.

Months passed, and Becky, Deborah, and I agreed that Donna’s cleaning service was excellent. Then Donna started missing cleaning appointments, and Tara was gone. The three-hour cleaning time became five. Not as convenient, but Donna did such a darn good job that we accepted this change.

Donna told me that her husband got hurt and was unable to work. Money must have been tight without medical insurance or workers’ compensation. Her teenage daughter started calling her, and I could tell by Donna’s demeanor these calls were causing her worries.

We learned that Tara had been accused of stealing from a client. I never found out what, a roll of toilet paper or some irreplaceable treasure. Donna couldn’t keep up and let go of some of her clients. Rushing between jobs, she was involved in a car incident and hit in the rear. She was found at fault—something I never understood—her savings dwindled and her debts kept growing. Her back injury and concussion meant missed cleanings, which took longer when she came.

“Some people never seem to catch a break,” Tim lamented. Donna could have reached out and explained her situation, and Deborah, Becky, and I would have tried to help. She didn’t. Instead, Donna didn’t show up or call to explain. When Tim and I drove west for the summer, we paid her 50% of what she charged to keep our spot. When she didn’t respond to my texts, I got frustrated. I left her a message asking her to return the summer pay. She did. I now wish I had just left her alone.

As our three youngest daughters climbed up the entrepreneurial and education ladder, they had a reliable rope to lift them out of financial, moral, or emotional crevasses. Twenty-four-seven, their dad was available with advice and encouragement. Like leprechauns know there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, our daughters were confident that someone or something would toss them a line and pull them up until they established solid ground.

Life deals us different hands. Millions find it nearly impossible to succeed because of a lack of money and support. The narrative we share about others’ failures isn’t accurate. If, at every direction, the headwinds push you back and there is no lifeline in sight, it becomes impossible to make it. We can’t know another person’s story except that it’s infinitely more complicated than the story we tell ourselves.

One thought on “Climbing Ability

  1. Good thoughts for us to remember about almost any situation… we ever have all the facts? Unfortunately, I am unable to share my real name being in the witness protection program and all. By the way, Donna is back. Still having some issues but I value her services so much that I am happy she gets here when she can. I trust her which is important. She appears to be a survivor.


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