01/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Gut-Wrenching Moments In Money

It's like a rock in the pit of your stomach, a cold clammy feeling that spreads up your gut and momentarily stops your breath.

It's the awful moment when they tell you that your credit card was denied. Or you open the mail and you find out that your utilities are about to be cut off. Or the check to your kid's school bounces, or the IRS seizes your bank account, or your spouse comes home and tells you they lost their job.

As you take in the information, you go from paralyzed to hyperventilating. It almost seems like it's happening to someone else.

It's when the finality of your circumstances becomes apparent and you have to face up to the fact - you're broke.

Sometimes it happens in public, when a waiter quietly informs you that American Express has denied your charge and you realize that you have no other way to pay.

Sometimes it happens in private, as you and your spouse finally take a calculator to all those bills piled up on the kitchen table.

And sometimes it's the heart-breaking realization that you can't afford to buy your kids anything for Christmas.

It's awful, it's heart-stopping, it's marriage-wrecking, it's life-altering, and it's happening to more and more people everyday.

If you've ever been there, or you're there right now, you know what I mean.

It's a panic like you've never known. All of a sudden, all the assumptions you made about your life are stripped away. Things you didn't even realize that you took for granted, like that you'd always have a place to sleep, enough to eat, and a car to drive, now seem up for grabs.

It's in that humbling, humiliating moment that you finally look at the weary-eyed landscape worker counting out his pennies for a burrito at Quick Trip and you realize, he's no different than me.

For the first time in your life you look at poor people and you don't feel sorry for them, you feel kinship. Instead of pity, you now feel empathy, because you finally understand, we're all in this together.

When we hear about someone else's trouble or see someone in less fortunate circumstances we often think, "There but for the grace of God go I."

But perhaps we're a bit off. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, "There through the grace of God am I." Meaning that, we really are all one. What happens to one of us happens to all of us, and the distance between our souls is not as great as we think.

People say that God never sends you anything bigger than you can handle. I know there are lots of factors that create a recession, but maybe this is all part of a big divine plan to help us get more connected to each other.

I'm sure there are probably some folks out there who still judge people based on what they wear or what they drive. But I'm hoping that the rest of us have grown up a bit, and that the empathy we've learned won't be forgotten the second we have a little money in our pockets.

Because it doesn't matter whether it's you, your neighbor or the guy at Quick Trip who doesn't make eye contact, when somebody is panicked about money, they should never have to feel alone.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author and syndicated columnist. Her current work is focused on helping individuals and organizations stay survive the recession with their sanity - and profit margins - intact.

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