Money, it’s a crime“Money,” Pink Floyd
Share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie
Money, so they say
Is the root of all evil today
But if you ask for a rise, it’s no surprise
That they’re giving none away
I prefer to keep my personal life personal, not exactly private but I am not apt to volunteer my personal life since it involves other people. It is impossible to share my personal life without making a decision for those people.
I don’t like decisions being made for me so I try hard to respect that with others.
However, about my life—five or so years ago I started a journey toward a new life, a journey that involved a few years of therapy.
That previous life spanned about four decades, the vast majority of my adult life. The therapy focused on my coming to terms with living with extreme anxiety, depression, and isolation for most of two decades.
And the root of that anxiety, depression, and isolation was money.
I felt—with a great deal of evidence to support my feelings—that I had become primarily my income for my family; and yet, despite having a very comfortable income, I was constantly putting out financial fires I didn’t start.
I was, as is the expectation in the good ol’ U.S. of A., making a living by giving up my life.
Cars, cell phones, home ownership, college, income taxes, etc.—these things became essential to our lives and constant sources of financial burdens laid at my feet despite my best and careful efforts to manage all the bills and expenses.
Since this was my family, I felt responsible, guilty, and increasingly resentful.
As an English teacher, I came to understand this scene in The Glass Menagerie in vivid and painful ways:
TOM: Look !- I’ve got no thing, no single thing !
AMANDA: Lower Your Voice !
TOM: In my life here that I can call my OWN ! Everything is –
AMANDA: Stop that shouting !
TOM: Yesterday you confiscated my books ! You had the nerve to –
AMANDA: I took that horrible novel back to the library- yes ! That hideous book by that insane Mr. Lawrence. [Tom laughs wildly.] I cannot control the output of diseased minds or people who cater to them – [Tom laughs still more wildly.] BUT I WON’T ALLOW SUCH FILTH BROUGHT INTO MY HOUSE ! NO, no, no, no, no !
TOM: House, house ! Who pays rent on it, who makes a slave of himself to –The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams
To have ones life turned almost entirely into being the responsible one, the one who makes the money, and then to recognize that the people for whom you dedicate your life-as-work are repeatedly careless with those efforts—this is among the many dehumanizing consequences of living in a culture that worships and centers money.
There was never enough money.
There was no way for there to be enough money.
Because disaster after disaster was perpetually burning it up even faster than I could make it.
I was always working 2 or 3 jobs (even while in a doctoral program, and as a full-time school teacher, I worked during Christmas at Sears), and there was no option to quit even one of those. I couldn’t even die, I thought, because I owe money, perpetually.
But here is the paradox.
Of course there was always more than enough money, and to be perfectly clear, this was never really about the money.
This is about basic human autonomy: Who has a right to how you spend your life and for what?
“Spend your life.”
This is the rhetoric we have chosen because we cannot, no, we refuse to exist in any other way not anchored to money.
My world became a struggle to be the careful one in a building storm of carelessness. Sisyphus had his rock; mine was money and debt.
“I still owe money to the money to the money I owe/ I never thought about love when I thought about home” (“Bloodbuzz Ohio,” The National).
I had lost (abdicated?) my humanity, my basic human dignity, and all I could feel was guilt and resentment.
This also is not about other people, the people of my family over those 40 years. In my very early 20s, I eagerly built that life—although in hindsight I did so in small increments that were not true to who I am (or was) as a human.
We allow and encourage people to build their lives in their 20s and 30s without really helping anyone recognize that they are making life decisions before they are even remotely fully formed (if any of us can ever be fully formed).
This is, of course, about me and my relationships with people and (regretfully) with money.
My transition to a new life included using the small amount of money we received from selling my parents’ house after they died to pay off my car and vowing never again to have a car payment. I believe in my bones that this decision would have made my parents happy.
My parents, you see, quite literally worked themselves into early graves, bound to money as the primary mechanism of love and family; these were working-class people tragically enamored with the American Dream and playing the part of Making It, of being upper-middle-class folk.
Again, that isn’t their fault. My parents didn’t invent this rat race, this treadmill to nowhere with a few dollars waved in front of our faces to keep us stumbling along.
So this new life, or this next stage of life.
I want no longer to be resentful. I try also not to be angry or to blame anyone else for my station in life because I am at a place where most of that is well within my control.
“I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life/Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone” (“My Life,” Billy Joel) plays in my young man’s memory, a young man who failed to listen to himself above the Ka-ching! of making a living..
And yet money still hovers there, blanketing everything.
Money is a ghost haunting the relationships I have lost with the family of those first 40 years.
Money is not the root of all evil.
Conceding our lives, our souls, to money—that is evil, a carelessness that can consume anyone who isn’t diligent about listening to their own heartbeat and not the rattling allure of a few coins.