I subscribe to the “Falling Safe” philosophy of life.
A person walks down a city street, perhaps inexplicably happy or modestly content, or maybe consumed by the routines of their day or bothered by life’s little annoyances.
High above them, in the upper reaches of a skyscraper under construction, work is being done. A crane is lifting beams or huge HVAC units, glass panels are being installed. Suddenly, something goes wrong and heavy things fall from the sky.
Whether it ends in tragedy or “a miracle nobody got hurt,” it speaks to the capriciousness of life. Some step, one second, one “what if” … and one person has a great story to tell, and the other has an unnerving story about them.
This, of course, is an extreme example but all our lives are filled with such “what ifs” and no one is immune to the suddenness of which things can go terribly wrong.
The charitable heart does not sneer at the misfortunate. The charitable heart looks at sickness, addiction, poverty, homelessness or any other affliction and thinks “there but for the Grace of God go I.”
Farina Salim-Jones was a woman whose life was going as planned until the safe fell.
She had a husband, two daughters, and a decent job and owned a home in Orange, which she bought in 2007.
Home ownership didn’t come easy for Farina. It was built over years of hard work. She worked two jobs in a Madison nursing home and her husband had a one-man contracting business.
But in less than a year, Farina’s life unraveled. The nursing home cut costs and let her go. Her husband died of kidney disease. And there she was, with no job and a mortgage to pay and a house to maintain.
Heather Seelinger’s life was, too, going as expected. She and her contractor husband owned a home in Randolph, where they lived with three sons. As an adult, Heather returned to college, got an associate’s degree, found a good job at County College of Morris and is now the guidance department secretary at Roxbury High School.
Then her safe fell.
For Heather it was divorce from a husband to whom she had to pay child support. She had to find part-time work and tried to find affordable rentals near both her Morris County jobs.
These are everyday middle-class people, hard workers and achievers, who hit a skid of bad luck.
And this is where Morris Habitat for Humanity stepped in. Through a little luck of the draw -- and their own hard work -- both women will be homeowners by Christmas. They’ve taken the home maintenance or finance courses, saved their down payments and are now putting in the 300 hours of sweat equity asked of every Habitat homeowner. “It’s a hand up not a handout” remains the bedrock of the Habitat philosophy.
When Farina tells her story, her eyes always tear at the word “foreclosure.” Her Orange home had four-bedrooms and was beautifully furnished but when the bank foreclosed after just a few months of her struggles, “I ended up giving almost everything away,” she said.
She remains hurt and confused about the quick foreclosure, but “I didn’t have anybody there to fight for me or show me the way.”
She was a victim of the predatory real estate shuffle in urban areas that got more than a few banks in hot water with the government, but she ended up with nothing but the satisfaction that the big lenders were fined. But satisfaction doesn’t pay the rent.
Heather, likewise, remains shaken by what she described as “being taken down financially in every way, shape and form,” by her divorce. It’s a long story, she said, but ends with her ex-husband systematically devaluing their home and showing no income to the point where Heather had to pay him child support.
For both these women, the opportunity Morris Habitat presented to them goes deeper that homeownership. It has restored their self-esteem and their belief in the generosity and caring of people. It has helped them recover from the terrible blindsides that hit so many people in life.
“I’ve worked since I was 15,” Heather said. “I had excellent credit, paid my bills on time and never took a hand-out in my life. I was determined not to be a victim of my circumstances. Morris Habitat understood my situation and helped me take the ‘victim’ out of it.”
Farina concurs with that idea. Like Heather, she puts in hours of volunteer work at the Restore Store in addition to her the work she will put into her new home.
“This program is wonderful for people who want to work hard and who have a dream – and those dreams do come true,” Farina said. “Morris Habitat has kept my family together and given me peace of mind.”
In other words, a failsafe in a world of falling safes.