If my New Year’s resolution for 2011 had been “dispel with financial insecurity,” I would have succeeded, but not in the way I planned. I always expected to finally feel monetarily secure when a big bag of money, a la Tex Avery, complete with dollar signs emblazoned on its burlap sides, plopped into my lap with an accompanying appropriate cartoon sound effect.
But that isn’t what happened. Instead, we declared a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April. I had thought this would be the end of the world, but in many ways it was a new beginning. In the years when my bank account would have been envied by most, I regularly startled awake in the middle of the night, wondering how I would pay my bills and terrified that it would all disappear.
It disappeared. I survived. Not only survived, but thrived — when the repo guys came for the car this spring, I offered them coffee and took my picture with them. “Why are you so happy?” one of them asked. “Well, what are my other options?” I replied.
The only thing I have total control over is how I react, or not, to certain situations. Being able to do the proverbial “count to 10” before the reaction comes is one of the gifts I’ve received only recently. I refuse to see this as a permanent state of affairs, but just one that will make me wiser and perhaps able to help someone else who embarks on the same path.
Although we do not have a savings account, much less college funds or methods of saving for “retirement,” whatever that is, I sleep far better now with a lot less.
I have settled in at The Star. Although I swore that my desk — which I could actually see way back last winter — would never reach the blaze-inducing capabilities observed in the workspace of my cellmate, Rusty Drumm, I have to admit I would be edgy now if someone were to strike a match near my budding Collyer brothers-style collection of paper.
But I didn’t fulfill my New Year’s resolutions for 2011. How do I know? Because I’ve had the same resolutions since I was 12: To exercise more and eat less. Although, once again, my physical form fell by the wayside, I feel that I lost a lot of weight from my soul in 2011.
I’m happy. Not like village-idiot-throwing-flowers-in-the-air kind of happy, but a deep and comfortable happiness that comes from the sweet nectar of Routine. It is based on inner life and growth rather than the sort that is based on external forces like people or situations — “absolute happiness” as opposed to “relative happiness,” the Buddhists say.
When I lived a big life, there was no room left for growth. There was keeping up with mortgage payments even as we planned an addition, cars that were traded in for shinier models every few years, and a business that looked on paper like more of a hobby (and a ducat-depleting one at that). We lived within our means, but only by a hair — when the means were gone it wasn’t long before destitution set in.
But now that my life is smaller — getting the kids to school, going to work, a short walk with Eric and the dogs on the beach, a DVD and dinner together, then going to sleep and doing the whole thing again the next day — my soul has had room to expand.
There may be a time in the next few years when I will once again jump into the fray and spearhead some social cause or chair some huge function or develop a business plan. But if life is a journey, not a destination, then for now I’m glad to simply ride the train, look out the window, and watch the scenery change.
Bridget LeRoy is a reporter at The Star.