Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Definition of "Rich"

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a message on Facebook. I was loose in SoHo, exploring, for about an hour, and I posted several things to Facebook because I didn't have anyone with me to share them. My favorite was a photo of Christopher Walken, with the caption, "walkens accepted," but the one that drew the most comments was as follows:

"I realize that I am wealthy even by the standards of this wealthy nation, and I love my husband above all things; however, I am still not buying him a $375 Oxford shirt."

As far as I can tell, the thing that surprised my friends was the line "I am wealthy." So I thought I'd talk about wealth for a minute. It's one of those things like race that middle-class white Americans don't like to discuss.

If this morning you thought to yourself, "which pair of shoes should I wear?" you are wealthy by the standards of the world. If you have a choice of what to make for dinner, you are wealthy by the standards of the world. Half the global population still exists on under $2 per day. One person in six lacks access to safe drinking water. The world is a wide big place, and in the United States not only do we sell shirts for $375 but we put clothes on our dogs.

Not all of us, of course. Today's my day at Faith in Action. We paid someone's $50 water bill. We helped someone else who normally does just fine on $800 a month.

When I speak at schools as a visiting author, almost inevitably I am asked if I'm rich. This makes teachers cringe, but I've come to understand that it's one way kids have of gauging how big of a celebrity I am. And they WANT me to be a celebrity; my visit is important to them.

I tell them that yes, I am rich. But then I explain what I mean by rich. I got this definition from a good friend several years ago, and I've used it ever since.

"I'm rich," she announced one day, over the phone.

"Oh, goody," I said. "What happened."

"I was in the grocery buying our food for the week. I put three gallons of milk in the cart and I suddenly realized I didn't know what milk cost. When I was first married I always knew. Now I go to the store and I pick out whatever my family wants to eat and I want to cook, and I buy it, and I don't even think about it anymore. I'm rich. I didn't even realize it."

That was when I realized it, too, because I do the same thing. I buy whatever food I want. Heck, I sometimes I buy organic blueberries. In winter. I love blueberries.

Thing is, when I say this in schools, the students get it. It's not a sexy definition of wealth. It's doesn't keep up with the Joneses. But as a measure of security, of freedom from want, I find it serves awfully well.

Would you buy a $375 shirt, even if you could?