February 16, 2011

Finding Inspiration by the Numbers...Thanks, IRS!

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This is my third season as a tax preparer. From mid-January to mid-April, my mind is focused on facts and figures. Income limitations. Allowable deductions.

None of this fact and figures stuff has prepared me for the tough part of the job.

Oh, the stories I hear! 

I am confessor, surrogate mother, therapist. I offer tax advice, encourage investing in a 401K, and celebrate small (and not so small) victories with my clients.


And for the bad news? I empathize when I can, or offer platitudes that probably don't help at all - but I hope there is some relief and release in having told me their problems.

This job can weigh heavily on one's psyche - hearing all of the bad things that happens to my clients in the course of a year is hard to take...

Death
Divorce
Foreclosure
Bankruptcy
Deadbeat parents
Chronic unemployment
Poverty
Illness
Drug addiction
Loss of parental rights
Homelessness
Despair

Some return the next year, telling the same sad tales of misfortune, and I commiserate. I encourage, all the while holding my tongue (bad decisions ARE bad decisions, after all).

And almost nobody holds back - once I am privy to their financial information, the floodgates open, and I hear all manner of things.

And just when I think that I may need a therapist myself so I can unload all of this negativity, a glimmer of hope might be found in my next appointment.


Last year, I did taxes for a young woman, mother to a precocious three-year old son. She was a heroin addict, totally dependent on her parents (other than the income from a part-time job); her mother meticulously organized all of her needed tax papers. 


Her appointment was yesterday. Her child, now four, sat at my desk and ate pizza and played with little rubber animals he brought in his backpack (the stingray was his favorite). He now has a ten-week old brother. Mommy, still having trouble keeping a job, was able to keep her baby - thanks to multiple visits to a methodone clinic each week. And now? SHE's the one with the meticulously arranged paperwork, as her parents have retired and moved out of state.


Maybe it was the tough love that occurred due to her parents' absence, or the fact that she was pregnant, but she has been slowly getting her life together.

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Last year, a failing marriage, foreclosure, outstanding tax liens, a child stricken by a stroke (and in a wheelchair). Tears at my desk, sympathy and Kleenex at the ready. She lives just a few blocks from me, I thought of her often as I drove by her corner, wondering if life was getting better for her and her three children.


She made an appointment to come in the other day...with her husband. I commented on her new haircut - short, and very cute. Her face was beaming, she looked radiant. Happy.
In the year since her last appointment, she had started over. 


From the ashes of her life, she has risen like a phoenix. Newly graduated from beauty school, she has a job now at a local salon. They are no longer in arrears with the IRS. Her son, so sick last year? He played football in middle school! Her husband has just started a new job.


No Kleenex was necessary this time, though when hearing about her refund, she did say that she thought she was happy enough to kiss me on the mouth.


I settled for a handshake, thankyouverymuch.


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This year I am stunned and humbled by the determination and hope that has been displayed by my clients who have fallen on tough times. So far, for all of them, things are beginning to look up.


They inspire me, and in turn, give ME hope. I am proud of their tenacity, and so pleased by their progress.


Every day, I am motivated to do my best, to try to make a difference, to maybe coax a sheepish grin out of someone who is feeling like the tax office is the last place they want to be.


For this ability to get to see the best in people, to have folks show me that hard work and optimism is what helped make America the best country ever, I will put up with the cranky, whiny clients who have no business bitching, and I will tolerate crappy pay and no hot water in the faucet...but only until April 18.


Even I have limits. Actually, that's when they throw ME out of the office, and I use some of this new-found inspiration to find MY next paying gig.


Who or what inspires YOU?


3 comments:

  1. how awesome to hear about how they recovered. you are just really easy to talk to. and positive. see how you get me to do things. you have that affect on people. :)

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  2. This post was actually pretty inspiring - thanks for sharing.

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  3. I love that were able to form these tenuous relationships with these people and see their stories unfold. Good to know that phoenixes still exist and are out there setting the world on fire.

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