A Friendly Wager
Let’s assume that this is the first and ONLY pandemic of our lifetime. It’s a stretch, I know. So far, COVID-19 is the first and ONLY instance in modern history where every single person ON THE PLANET is experiencing the same thing. Of course, we can’t all live how the “Haves” would. I’ve Facebook ‘liked,’ ‘loved,’ and ‘scowled’ at countless social media posts rejecting “We’re in this together” as the bullshit slogan it is. The reason: social distancing in and of itself is a privelege. The Black community in Virginia, for example, has been hit hardest by COVID-19 deaths. Lack of access to health insurance, environmental injustice, jobs that must be done in person. These barriers aggressively underpin the racism of our healthcare system. The level-set that this could have been won’t happen for us to change the ugly. I’d like to wager with anyone who thinks our government will prioritize racial equity or the creation of a non-profit healthcare system anytime soon.
I’d also like to state what may be obvious to some (but I won’t assume): I am a priveleged Caucasian female who can and does work from home. I am able to afford high-speed internet at my house, which I also own. My job requires my mind to be sharp and my tolerance for group Zooms to be high. I show up when I am expected to, at a distance. For all intents and purposes, I am a reasonable and productive member of our remote society.
Going For Broke
Merrill Lynch in 2008 Rich
At no time is my privelege or entitlement more apparent than when unearned praise or money lands in my lap. When I tell people my twin is a doctor, for example, people react as if I was the one who finished residency. Enter stage left: stimulus money. I went to bed budgeting one night and woke up stimulus rich the next. This must be what JP Morgan Chase and Merrill Lynch felt like in 2008? I assumed the $1,200 Tr*mp promised that Congress approved would never amount to actual hard dollars. I was wrong. Then, I was greedy. I instantly felt what most people feel who grew up without money: I MUST spend this until it’s gone. That is a very dangerous spot to find yourself. What good are brand new $200 shoes when your lights have been cut off?
As an active alcoholic, I once spent my entire $2,400 tax refund in less than two hours. My subconscious had been keeping tally of all the things I couldn’t afford all along. It seemed to me that I had the “once in a lifetime opporunity” to get myself the things I’d been denied. Except that once alcoholics start focusing on a single need, the drink slowly takes its place. Alcohol creates more demands than the needs it fills. What’s worse, alcohol made me forget what I thought I needed in the first place. Some people in recovery like to call this cavernous hollow of unquenchable thirst the “God-shaped hole.” My friend and I both decided that instead of trying to say this at meetings with a straight face, we’d design our own t-shirts with the phrase on it. I personally would like to use God-shaped Hole as my future band’s name. (Copyright pending).
Once I got that $1,200 in my hot little hands, sober thinking left the building. I spent two hours reading Wired magazine articles looking for the most expensive Macbooks I could justify buying. But how will I write without a 13.3″ monitor with retina display? I’ve wanted a Mac since I started doing freelance writing in 2015. I’ve written without one since 1992. Once my brain fixates on something, though, there is little chance I can break free. My husband made the mistake of offering me sound reasons for setting my money aside. I put my phone down to calmly explain how my need to purchase this computer superseded our current uncertainties. What about my simple request to drop over a grand on hardware during a global pandemic did he not understand? No need to sound the austerity measure alarms, spouse.
Please keep in mind that John lost his job as a cook just three weeks ago. In fact, his beloved restaurant hangs in the balance, along with its owners and the rest of the kitchen staff. Knowing this, I spent–and I kid you not–the entire evening alternating between livid toddler and enraged teenager. If I could have been a fly on the wall, I would have chosen not to be. I felt embarrassed that I could not let it go. I genuinely understood how I was behaving was wrong. But I could not stop myself.
I don’t think being spoiled or entitled or rich compares to the fraudulent thinking alcoholism perpetuates. At the center of it all, an untreated alcoholic remains incapable of being anything other than a self-centered little shit. I wish that I could say I am above this type of thinking or behavior, but I know enough about my condition to know that I am not unique. The best I can offer is an examined, impartial view of myself, especially at my worst.
Cooler Heads Prevail
I decided not to purchase the Macbook after all. I didn’t feel right about it for a number of reasons. First, I’m learning to make financial considerations as a married couple, rather than on my own. Second, the compulsvity I felt has more to do with fear than anything else. I am afraid to see money leave as quickly as it came to me. Ironically, this makes for a pretty tragic self-fulfilling prophecy. I impulsively spend money before it gets the chance to leave me. The whole situation reminds me of something my spiritual advisor used to tell me: When you don’t know what to do in the moment, do nothing. I would rather wake up without the emotional hangover of overriding my little family’s best interest to serve my own needs. For now, money that does not serve our immediate needs will be set aside for the coming months. In the meantime, we will choose a local fund where we can give a little something to fellow Richmonders who need help.
I don’t suppose I can tamp down all of the entitlement and privelege that accounts for my quarantine-style tantrums. What I can do is pray for / set the intention to think of how I can be of service to others without limiting the possibilities of personal growth. There are a lot of moments when I want to keep stirring the unsettled feeling I have of agitation and fear that threatens my serenity. The truth is, I can’t afford to. While the entire world lives in forced isolation, the least I can do is focus on spiritually breaking even.
For those of us teetoring on the brink of financial ruin and budgetary solace, small gains from spiritual certainty are worth the cost of ego.