A way out of the subprime funk.

Just because you panic over each bill doesn't mean you can't be a good Samaritan.

I am among the financially "subprime." While my condition has been voted word of the year for 2007 by linguists of the American Dialect Society, I would feel better had my word this year been "green" or even "waterboarding." Those were runners up.

Many people view their current economic situation as akin to being waterboarded on a regular basis. Strapped to the front door of your house, and with each new wave of bills you plunge backwards, held under until you are certain your dreams will burst. You come up gasping, panicked, pleading, and praying.

Yet I've discovered that, instead of drowning alone, or dragging others under, people are willing to pool resources and help one another float through the flood.

Nobody strapped us to our mortgage, but because our credit was poor, the rate was higher. Then our local taxes went up, so fast and high during reassessments in boom time that our payments nearly doubled in three years, while incomes have remained the same.

With the housing market in the dumps, we are not in a position to sell and move to a cheaper spot, though that is the goal. So we work more jobs and cut expenses to protect our investment and dream. My four sons have become mac and cheese and PB&J junkies.

This nation is in a depression right now, though not in the traditional fiscal sense. "Subprime" has come to refer to much more than the terms of a person's mortgage; it's how we feel about our prospects.

As preholiday debts mounted, I said a little prayer for relief and peace of mind. Those hopes were fulfilled when I found myself assisting those in much more dire situations than mine.

First came a call from a friend who was about to be evicted. It twisted my gut to listen to her tale of declaring bankruptcy and moving her family's belongings to a self-storage unit in the knowledge that they would spend the new year in a shelter.

Then I wrote about my friend's plight for a local paper. The story appeared on a Sunday, and by noon the family had a new place to live. The home was within their budget, required no deposit, and allowed a two-month grace period before any rent was due.

As the result of the article, my phone began to ring with calls from strangers. People began contacting me and offering more help than my friend needed. So I began pairing them with others who were calling and e-mailing me for help. Most were moms in danger of foreclosure or eviction, in terrible financial need.

Despite the fact that every charity in our region did horribly this year and was tapped out long before Christmas, within weeks, I compiled an overflow list of good Samaritans. Even people who didn't have the money to give, I discovered, still had the spirit and other resources to offer. Now they had a matchmaker to pair them with the needy.

Instead of agonizing over the money my family didn't have, or being embarrassed by our decrepit minivan belching white smoke and overheating, I am one of Heaven's temps, pairing off the needy with the generous.

It's easy work, a call or an email here and there, connecting people in any spare moment between work and caring for my sons. I am paid in peace of mind, realizing that if the worst happens, I know all the roads to recovery because I am helping others travel them.

Each family has its own story of how it ended up subprime, but all of them share the guilt of failing and the fear that, with the next submersion in water, they will resurface more dead than alive.

My chest still tightens when the bills come. My kids still ask me to let them off one block away when I take them to school in "the mini bomb."

But I've learned that, if I was given the problem, I have also been given the means to a solution. And now I know I am not the only one fighting to stay above water.

As we improve our circumstances and emerge from this dip in frozen credit, perhaps what we are after all is "preprime" or "greening."

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