Broke is the New Rich

March 11, 2011

This week I was the recipient of a Barn Raising but instead of a barn it was my house and instead of a raising it was more of a razing and instead of building a place in which to put my cows, it was more along the lines of trying to sell it to avoid The New F Word- Foreclosure.

Until you’ve had a chance to see friends in action the way I have this week, you cannot fully appreciate the definition of the word friendship. It is true; When crisis strikes, we find out who our true friends are. Often if a crisis is bad enough, like when there’s a terrible illness or injury or even worse, when a loved one dies, our friends want to rally around- they are wringing their hands, wanting  to do something , anything. The truth is that most times, when an accident or injury or illness or death happens, there’s not one thing for the people who love us, to DO.
But in our house-crisis situation, there was not just one thing to do, but hundreds of things that my friends not only could do, but they really, really would not take No for an answer to do and they did those 987 things that were wrong with my house in an amazing record breaking week of dumping, scrubbing, scraping, moving, rearranging  and painting.

After eight days of overtime back-breaking work, the end result was that my house was an Extreme House Makeover; so extreme it could be a new hit reality show, but not extreme only in the end result but also Extreme in that my friends, who’s health and fitness has always been my business, now were making my house their business.

Just like author Deborah Underwood has said, there are many kinds of Quiet: first awake Quiet, jelly-side down Quiet, don’t scare the baby robins Quiet, car ride at night Quiet.

On that same line of thinking, there are many kinds of Broke: the I forgot my wallet and can’t stop at Starbucks Broke, the I’m in college and temporarily Broke, the Homeless Shelter Broke and now, there’s a new kind of Broke- the I thought we were rich but now there’s no job and should we send our kids to college or pay the mortgage Broke.
So. It was time to sell our heart, I mean, our home, even though none of us were ready, not our 18 year old son, who will leave our nest next September, and certainly not our 16 year old twins who only have one year left at the high school in this school district where they’ve attended since kindergarten. And certainly not me. Beyond not wanting to clean out 18 years worth of clutter and cluttered memories from the basement to the attic- an idea that was not only overwhelming and paralyzing- but who felt the heartbreak every time a neighbor walked or drove by our house.

Ask anyone on Lincoln Avenue. I am the (self-appointed) mayor of our street. I also used to be the Bike Whisperer, having taught every child under 12 years old on Lincoln Avenue to ride a bike. I also was the Grand Poo-Bah for the Halloween parades, the dog funerals, the Memorial Day Talent Shows and holding the world’s record for number of kids jumped over by a dog(a kid pyramid of seven).
I try to soothe myself by reading the paper and reminding myself that this predicament is not the humiliating event that it would’ve been ten years ago. Today, we are a statistic; we are one in every six families in the country. We are no longer the upper middle class. As a matter of fact I saw a frightening scale the other day that put our family of five under the poverty line. We are POOR! Shocking to me, but nothing new in 2011.
But something unprecedented happened since last Wednesday.
In the words of author Gene O’Kelly, not only have I let go of something precious but I’ve also gained something precious, and that is the palpable sense of being carried by my communitywhen I couldn’t walk  through this letting go process by myself. How precious the feeling of neighbors and even long time friends  reaching out and helping in ways that perhaps used to be acceptable (when was the last time you asked your neighbor for even a cup of sugar?) . This week, no one rang the doorbell. They just marched in and got down on their knees and started scrubbing.
It took me a week to find out who painted the corner of the bathroom where my two teenage boys had missed the target for the past six years. It turned out to be my next door neighbor Martine and my longest friend Stephanie (who has three teenage boys herself)who went in there and anonymously redid that bathroom. They get the  MVP (Most Vile Painting) award.

My dearest time friends (and even some friends I haven’t had coffee with in years) built shelves, threw my wrong-sized fridge out and moved in another, better sized one they found in my neighbor’s garage. My friend Susan had just sold her house in Vermont and not only did she let me move her furniture in to my living room, she let me store my furniture in her garage! Then there was Gina. Do you have a Gina in your life? If not, you need one. She was the SWAT team leader. SWAT team leaders do not ask, you know. They just see what needs to be done, pick the least intrusive time to ambush and in they go. Very effective. She was the one with the insistance on helping me. Her email said “I’m coming.” She had vision and creativity to see what I needed (and to overcome my hillbilly tendencies) and to assign the target teams to do it. At times this past weekend she, without a whistle even, was the traffic cop directing movers, painters and gofers in ten different directions. Not only that, she let me cry over long expired beach passes , trophies, bus passes and report cards, but also had the fortitude to allow my sniffles to dry, then snatch the random scraps from my hand and either file it away or pitch it.
My dear neighbors arrived with lottery tickets in the hopes that I’d win and get to stay! I have one friend in particular who is a former beauty queen (Miss Tennessee is my nickname for her) I used to think of her as Elle from Legally Blonde; the “bend. and snap!” girl. BUT because she slaved painting my radiators and heaving carpet out the upstairs windows for three days, I know she would also respond like Elle did in the movie “What? Like getting into Harvard is hard?” Mizz Tennesse would say”What? Like renovating Penny’s house is hard?” An amazing gift, my firends have given me.

My friend Debby,who will be the one that will ride in the ambulance with me, was the one kneeling with her arm around me in the attic while I uncovered and recovered long-lost and disorganized  but also never to be forgotten home videos and photo albums. Needless to say, she made me organize them.

Beyond these angels, there were probably thirty more friends and neighbors trudging silently back and forth between the dumpster and my house and sweeping up in the background. They know who they are and I’ve got dibs on sitting next to them in heaven.
In the weirdest way, my house  is now the most livable it has ever been, only because my friends have helped me, in the most radical way, to make it the most sell-able.
So. I can’t write about fitness this week. But I’ve always said that fitness can be a metaphor for life and that what applies to life also applies to fitness. When we least feel like walking the walk is when it most matters. And from the dirt can arise the most beautiful of flowers. And  this week,I have been given the gift of community and friendship that almost (almost) eclipses the loss that I will feel leaving this street and this house.
I should also mention that releasing the bondage of all my “stuff’ is very similar to how it must feel when we shed unwanted pounds and start to feel what it feels like to be free of uneccessary weight that we didn’t know was weighing us down until it was gone. Finally, we can breathe.
So if this is the way it feels to be Broke, then I am the Richest Broke Girl in all of history. Bring it on.

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