Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lesson 12: Money Can't Buy Me Love

When I think about the times I was truly happy, they're often associated with times I was subjected to abject poverty.

That's not to say that I love being poor. Stuffing bags of rice and oatmeal and jars of honey into a baby stroller and walking out of the supermarket so my kids could eat wasn't necessarily fun. Exciting, sure, but not fun.

I've had to steal to survive. But I've also lived on the other end of the financial spectrum. I've broken in a new car. I've been approved for a mortgage. I've squirreled money away in a 401K.

But oddly, living a middle-class lifestyle didn't make me happy. And it should have. I struggled and fought hard to climb the social strata. I spent years buried in text books pursuing a degree I thought for sure would give me the edge I needed to be financially successful.

And here I am, years later, looking back at the things that have made me happy, and it's not the money or the status or the lifestyle that did it.

It's the people.

When I have money, I'm usually working a 10-hour day to get it. I sit alone in my car commuting. I sit alone in my cubicle staring at a silent computer screen. I keep commuting and sitting each day because each hour brings just a little more cash to the bank.

But what I really yearn for is relationships. When you're poor, relationships are all you've got.

I never stole alone. I went with my equally destitute sister-in-law, my best friend, my brother. We ate meagerly together. We commiserated together. We made the best of our situation together.

Without money to pay for cable, buy gas for the car or go out to eat, I spent time with my family. I spent time reading with my sons, acting out stories in impromptu living room plays, listening to music or family musicians play guitar and piano, hiking, tending a garden ... living with others.

There's no time for that in a world governed by 9-to-5 calendars, long commutes and papers to push. There's no time for people. There's no time for love.

So I'm calling one of my best friends tonight on the way home. And I'm telling my roommates how much I appreciate them when I get home. And I'm curling up in bed with my youngest son and reading him to sleep tonight.

Sure, it's nice to have money in the bank to cover the bills. But when you really need help, people are worth a lot more than a savings account.

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