Monday, February 12, 2007

Church Signs: "Blessed or Cursed"

Church Signs: "Blessed or Cursed"

Earlier this week, I was sitting in a café with a freelancer friend of mine. He was working on math problems, his new obsessive hobby, and I was working on work, the thing I've been doing for money for the last twelve years while I figure out what I really want to do with my life.

In general, although he is sweet and good-natured and I've known him for years, this friend is not someone I can really confide in. Every now and then, though, I inevitably forget that I can't really talk to him and I share something that I will quickly come to regret. This week was one of those times.

"It's like, sometimes I look around my world and I see all of the things that aren't working out--health, home, love, work, social life--and I feel motivated. I feel driven to fix the things that are wrong. But other times, my legs just go out from underneath me. I'm flattened and all I can do is look around me and see how desolate and hopeless it all is. I mean, I don't have any of those things. Not enough money. Not enough love. No real social life to speak of. I hate my job. I am miserable in an apartment I can't afford. And my health…I don't even have that," I said.

He smiled sympathetically, and said something like, "Man, I know. It sucks."

"It's like, I just wish I could find a rich husband or win the lottery or something," I joked.

"Money doesn't help," he said, smugly. "Money doesn't matter."

I got so mad my head nearly popped off and splattered all over the mural-covered walls of the cafe. It was the tone of his voice that really did it. He was so condescending. So wise-person-who-knows-it-all-speaking-to-the-poor-ignorant-youngster. I wanted to break his neck.

"Well, that's easy for you to say," I said. "You've never been homeless. I've spent almost my entire life beneath the poverty line! You think that if I had enough money to pay my rent every month, my life wouldn't be a whole lot better? You think if I had enough money to buy whatever food I wanted or go on vacation or visit my friends or buy a home of my own that I wouldn't be a more happy and relaxed human being?! If you think money doesn't matter you are completely messed up."

"Well, yeah, I mean, I guess…" he said, looking a little uncomfortable at having been reminded of my intense and long-term poverty.

"Maybe it doesn't matter after a certain point," I told him. "Maybe after you've got enough to cover your basic needs and be comfortable in the world. Maybe anything after that doesn't matter. And maybe money can't buy you happiness. But for a whole lot of us--for millions and millions of us--having more money would make a whole lot of difference."

"I find that daily meditation really helps. That's where true happiness lies," he countered.

I stayed angry for days. I told him off over and over in my head. I couldn't let it go. He's not a wealthy person--far from it--but he owns his own home and his own car, both of which were made possible because he inherited money. His great grandfather invented the Reese's Peanut Butter cup. Seriously. His great grandfather was H.B. Reese and a small bit of that sweet fortune trickled down to him.

So where does this guy get off telling me that money doesn't matter? And, more to the point, why was his saying it making me so mad?

After a while, I realized two things. One, it pisses me off when I argue for my own limitations. I wish I had gone after him, instead of throwing myself on the ground, wailing about my own impoverished experience. And two, he only said what he said because he isn't happy. His opinion is based on the fact that he can't manage to cobble together a decent life even with his windfall and his safe middle-class upbringing. To him, this translates as money not bringing happiness. If you have enough money and always have had, but you have never really been happy, of course you would come to the conclusion that money does not contribute to happiness.

My indignance was intense and, I think, justified, but ultimately, his life choices have nothing to do with mine. His perspective on money and happiness--while, in my opinion, ignorant, privileged, and flawed--is his own and he hangs onto it for his own reasons.

I'm willing to wager that if he sold his house and turned his inheritance over to me; if we traded net worths, then I would be a lot more happy. And I suspect that he would be even more unhappy than he is now. I'd like to see him meditate his way out of this mess.

Perhaps I should ask him to relinquish his assets. If he really thinks that money has nothing to do with happiness, he should have no problem giving it all to me, right?

The church sign topic this week was "Blessed or Cursed." Do I think my friend was blessed by his financial windfall? Yes. Does he believe he was? I don't think so. Not in any way that matters. This pisses me off, but unless I can convince him to give it to me, that anger will only act as a curse, fostering bitterness and rage, neither of which is particularly helpful in the long run.

And, as far as the long run goes, I may not have been blessed with money, but I have a lot of other things going for me--and the game ain't over yet.

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