It happened one day when I was sitting in my alone-chair, computer on lap, staring out the window. I had just come upstairs, and downstairs the radio was on. On the radio somebody had been talking about the Romneys and about how much money they had–whether in a positive, negative or matter-of-fact way, I don’t remember–when all of a sudden a thought came to me, so loud and clear that it seemed to come from outside. Surprised, I looked around as if someone had spoken. The thought came again: “You are as rich as the Romneys.”
You are as rich as the Romneys.
The thought was so matter-of-fact and direct that I could hardly argue with it. But, for a moment, I tried. Umm… Thought… have you seen our school loans? Do you realize that I am not working for pay right now? (Mothering and blog writing=satisfying, creative work, not so lucrative) Yes, we own a rental property, but we make less than $100 a month on it, and the new roof that it needs will cost thousands. Do you know that I still wonder how we will pay for the girl’s preschool? Do you know that I am tired of trying to figure out if I can afford a $20 haircut?
I argued for a moment, but my heart wasn’t really in it. I knew, I just knew, that the statement was true. It just was. You are as rich as the Romneys. I looked out the window again.
It is a little-known secret that the houses in the “bad” neighborhood where we live have some of the best views in the city (also some of the best neighbors). When I look out the window in the morning, the sun comes up over an expansive valley, with houses tucked among trees and a blanket of fog laid among the hills. It is the kind of view that would cost millions in a place like Los Angeles. We didn’t pay the millions–and yet, here was the view.
You should see the stars in the winter.
As I sat, my mind began ticking though a list of luxury items that my family takes for granted. The computer. Internet access. Good coffee. Bakery bread. A reliable car–with seat warmers! Gym membership. Zoo membership. Princess dresses. High-quality shoes. Money to burn at the Farmer’s Market. Bikes. Wine and beer. Restaurant dinners.
I’m not used to thinking of these items as extravagant. Aren’t luxury items things like diamond necklaces, thousand dollar purses and million dollar yachts? But as I sat considering this “rich as the Romneys'” phrase, it occurred to me that if you can buy anything that goes beyond basic necessities, it means that your basic necessities are covered. Anything more is luxury, and in this way, the Romneys and I are in the same yacht… or… umm… at least the same borrowed kayak.
Or think of it this way–who do I have more in common with–the mother in Burkina Faso who doesn’t know where her kids’ next meal is coming from, or a millionaire? In terms of numbers, we’re a lot closer to extreme poverty than to multi-millions, but in terms of experience both the millionaire and I go to bed at night well-fed, with unlimited clean water available in our indoor bathrooms, locks on our doors, gas in our cars, books that we can read on our nightstands, and another day (likely) filled with luxuries ahead of us. Sure, my imaginary millionaire may be thinking about taking her private jet to Tuscany the next day, and I may be trying to figure out how to get the kids to ballet while my husband has the car, but neither of us is up thinking about how far the grain will stretch.
The real difference between me and my millionaire isn’t that she is more secure in her wealth (expenses generally rise with income, plus I have simple living skills that she can’t imagine), or that she is necessarily happier (in fact, I think that the reverse is often true). The real difference is in the degree of our responsibility. Because in the end, I think that we will all have to answer the same questions. Were we wise with our money? Were we grateful? Did we share?
And to whom much is given, whether in yachts or borrowed kayaks, much will be required.