Today I’m going to dip a toe into a topic I’ve been too scared to write about thus far. I’m kind of forcing myself to do it, in the same way I forced myself to launch this blog in the first place. This is a topic that’s kind of taboo to discuss in polite company, so my hope is that many of you will find comfort and community in a candid airing-out.
The topic is money. It’s a subject that terrifies and paralyzes me. It lives not in my heart or mind, but in my bowels and sleepless nights. Even now, right this second, typing the word money feels like I’m inching my hand closer and closer to the third rail. Money makes me sick with worry. My money-anxiety is a thick, acrid cloud, one that distorts my ability to see my objective circumstances clearly; one that shortens my breath, turning my usually-rational decision-making process into a fitful series of childlike lashings-out.
I kind of suck at money.
I’m from Scarsdale, a satirically abundant land of plenty. I grew up a Christmas-celebrating atheist reform Jew. Christmas drove me crazy even then - as a young kid of seven or eight. The many presents under our tree made me feel not grateful but undeserving. I felt, as I feel today, that I was standing on ground I had not earned.
I get this from my mother, I now understand. (Hi, mom! Don't worry, we all good!)
Today, here in my dotage, I am pincer-pinched by a second strand of Christmas-based money anxiety: the shall-we-say more straightforward Provider’s Lament: how the hell am I going to pay for all this shit.
Ordinarily, these two strands would be more than enough anxiety for one Holiday Season™.
But then there’s this pesky little matter of the Coming Of The End Times, i.e. the Russian Story, i.e. a totally unnecessary anxiety-log heaved on our already-roaring Fear Fire.
This being the season, I see this Russian business through the lens of money-anxiety, too.
I see this President-Elect of ours not as a moustache-twirling evildoer but as a massive debtor, and a particularly desperate, wild-swinging one at that. He is in nine or ten figures of hock all over the world. His business model, like that of his kindred spirits Ponzi and Madoff, is to dig new tranches of debt to pay for his old; repeat. He does this more or less constantly, as fast as he can, as close to the speed of compound interest as he can heave himself along. He very nearly lost it all, his whole damn wad, back in the go-go '90s, but some Russian dudes bailed him out. And now he owes them. Big-time. These people who famously Do Not Fuck Around. And so, like all men drowning in debt to dangerous creditors, he takes moon shot after moon shot at instant solvency, whenever he gets an opening.
And wouldn’t you know it.
The motherfucker’s ship came in.
In case you were wondering if there was such thing as a just universe, Donald John Trump, the sexist son of a racist father, hit the lottery, and now our Sweaty-Debtor-in-Chief finds himself in possession of the ultimate blank checkbook, backed by three branches of government and four armed forces, with the nuclear briefcase growling at his feet like a tuned-up pit bull.
Knowing full well that he’s looking at a two-year unchecked spending spree before voters clip him with an ankle bracelet, Our Man In Orange is going to close himself a $500B oil deal before he even puts his hand on the Presidential Bible.
Check and mate.
That’ll pull him out of the red, right? Slate clean, bill paid, all good?
Except that’s never how the movie ends, is it.
Honey, I swear, it’s just this one last job…then we’ll get that little place on the beach we’ve always talked about…
There’s just no way this story goes happy ending on us. Something tells me this particular hero doesn’t ride off into the sunset. This guy feels more like Val Kilmer in Heat, with the big bag of loot on his shoulder, just a half-step away from the getaway car…
And then something like this happens:
Something sloppy, stupid, “unintentional." Somewhere in Syria, or North Korea.
So, um…yeah. This big-picture stuff isn’t exactly helping my holiday anxiety. My guess is it’s not doing wonders for your sleeping habits, either.
How the hell do we turn into the skid on this, people?
I really don’t want to leave this blog post on the second-act cliffhanger. Luke and the gang, stuck in the trash compactor with the walls closing in. But that’s really where we are right now, isn’t it.
So I’m going to go for kind of a sentimental, Hallmark-channel, Christmas-movie ending here. Bear with me.
This is the Al-Hamidi family. They are Syrian refugees. Their names are Oday (dad), Fatima (mom), Kosay (5), and Loay (3).
In 2014, after surviving a chemical weapons attack launched by their own President, they fled to Lebanon, where they lived in a single room for over two years. In this room they ate, washed, and slept.
On September 22, 2016, they became one of the miraculous few to be granted asylum in the US. Today they live in Bridgeport, about ten minutes from my house. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of a resettlement organization called IICONN, as well as some amazing volunteer work by many of my friends and neighbors, the Al-Hamidis are spending this holiday season safe, fed, clothed, warm, and happy.
I have seen with my own eyes their two kids running and tumbling around their small apartment, laughing their heads off.
I have also seen Fatima in tears, the day after our Presidential election, knowing full well our President-Elect's campaign promises. I watched as her memories of years living in terror crept back into her emotional foreground.
I, personally, am not going to let those fears become her reality.
The fate of the larger world is beyond my control. But the well-being of this family - if I marshal all the resources I am capable of marshaling - may actually be within my control. I will protect this family.
Many of my friends here in my neighborhood - many of you - have already joined me in this fight, raising money, gathering clothing, outfitting Kosay and Loay’s room with posters and toys and books. If you, reader, are interested in hunkering down with us, throwing in with your strength and resources in whatever form you’re capable of, hit me up. I'd love to hear from you. This family will live a tangibly better life because of what you do.
Here’s the point.
Do what you can, this holiday season, and, more to the point, during this administration. However long we are forced to endure it.
Do everything you can.
But let the other stuff go.
Anxiety over elements that you have the power to control is useful, and important. Let that anxiety not only motivate your behavior, but let it expand your sphere of influence, and allow you to protect and serve more than you once thought possible.
Do more than you ever have. Go ahead and stress yourself silly about keeping the people in your maximum-world safe, protected, and happy.
But let the other stuff go.
Like our President-Elect, I am a debtor. Over the past few years, I have come to the understanding that this is my cross to bear. I put this out there for you, my friends, today, because I know that many (if not all) of you bear your own crosses, habits and flaws that feel chronic, unending, and isolating.
Please know that you are not alone.
Say it with me, y'all (I did warn you I was going all sentimental):
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Go for that.
I love you.
I am grateful for you.
Have a very Merry Christmas.
And a Happy Jew Year.
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[If you'd like to donate directly to IICONN, a genuinely awesome organization, click here.]